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THE BOOK OF WONDER 



WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR 

*THE GODS OF PEGANA. THIRD EDITION 
TIME AND THE GODS 
THE SWORD OF WELLERAN 
A DREAMER'S TALES 
FIVE PLAYS 

"FIFTY-ONE TALES. THIRD EDITION 
With a new Portrait 

"TALES OF WONDER. SECOND EDITION 

PLAYS OF GODS AND MEN 

TALES OF WAR 
*UNHAPPY FAR-OFF THINGS 

* Uniform with this Volume 




THE EDGE OF THE WORLD 




THE 
BOOK OF WONDER 

A CHRONICLE OF LITTLE ADVENTURES 
AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD 



BY 

LORD DUNSANY 



WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY 

S. H. SIME 



LONDON 

ELKIN MATHEWS, CORK STREET 
MCMXIX 



p 

(Jfc&fe 



Published .... 79/2 
Second Edition .... 79/9 



[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED] 



PREFACE 

COME with me, ladies and 
gentlemen who are in any wise 
weary of London : come with 
me : and those that tire at all 
of the world we know : for 
we have new worlds here. 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

MY thanks are due to the Editor of The 
Sketch for permission to reprint here twelve of 
these tales, which as " Episodes from the Book 
of Wonder " were printed in his columns. 
Many were abbreviated to suit the exigencies 
of the Paper and are here given in full. 

I again offer my thanks to the Editor of The 
Saturday Review for permission to reprint tales, 
the two last in the book. 



CONTENTS 



PAGE: 

THE BRIDE OF THE MAN-HORSE * ^ . ' i 

THE DISTRESSING TALE OF THANGOBRIND THE 
JEWELLER, AND OF THE DOOM THAT BEFELL 

HIM . . . . . ...'.-'. 9 

THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX f ; . . 16 

THE PROBABLE ADVENTURE OF THE THREE LITERARY 

MEN . . . < '' < '. < . .21 

THE INJUDICIOUS PRAYERS OF POMBO THE 

IDOLATER . , .' * t 28 

THE LOOT OF BOMBASHARNA . . . 35 

MlSS CUBBIDGE AND THE DRAGON OF ROMANCE . 43 

THE QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S TEARS . ' ' " ' 49 

THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS . . . 58 

HOW NUTH WOULD HAVE PRACTISED HIS ART UPON 

THE GNOLES v . , . . . . 66 

How ONE CAME, AS WAS FORETOLD, TO THE CITY 

OF NEVER . * , " .'..' 75 

THE CORONATION OF MR. THOMAS SHAP * . 83 

CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH v . . .... . . . 91 

THE WONDERFUL WINDOW * . . . 99. 

EPILOGUE . . . . . io& 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD . . . Frontispiece 

FACING PAGE 

ZRETAZOOLA ... . ... , - i 
THE OMINOUS COUGH . . < . . ; . 9 

THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX . * . . 16 

41 1 WISH I KNEW MORE ABOUT THE WAYS OF 

QUEENS " . V . .... .42 

HE FELT AS A MORSEL # . . * . 56 

THERE THE GIBBELINS LIVED AND DISCREDITABLY 

FED . . . . . . 59 

THE LEAN, HIGH HOUSE OF THE GNOLES . . 74 
THE CITY OF NEVER . ff , , . 78 

THE CORONATION OF MR. THOMAS SHAP ,. . 90 



I ! - 




ZRETAZOOLA 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 



THE BRIDE OF THE MAN-HORSE 

ON the morning of his two hundred and fiftieth 
year Shepperalk the centaur went to the golden 
coffer, wherein the treasure of the centaurs 
was, and taking from it the hoarded amulet 
that his father, Jyshak, in the years of his 
prime, had hammered from mountain gold 
and set with opals bartered from the gnomes, 
he put it upon his wrist, and said no word, but 
walked from his mother's cavern. And he 
took with him too that clarion of the centaurs, 
that famous silver horn, that in its time had 
summoned to surrender seventeen cities of 
Man, and for twenty years had brayed at star- 
girt walls in the Siege of Tholdenblarna, the 
citadel of the gods, what time the centaurs 
waged their fabulous war and were not broken 
by any force of arms, but retreated slowly in 
a cloud of dust before the final miracle of the 
gods that They brought in Their desperate 
B 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

need from Their ultimate armoury. He took 
it and strode away, and his mother only 
sighed and let him go. 

She knew that to-day he would not drink 
at the stream coming down from the terraces 
of Varpa Niger, the inner land of the moun- 
tains, that to-day he would not wonder awhile 
at the sunset and afterwards trot back to the 
cavern again to sleep on rushes pulled by 
rivers that know not Man. She knew that it 
was with him as it had been of old with his 
father, and with Goom the father of Jyshak, 
and long ago with the gods. Therefore she 
only sighed and let him go. 

But he, coming out from the cavern that 
was his home, went for the first time over the 
little stream, and going round the corner of 
the crags saw glittering beneath him the 
mundane plain. And the wind of the autumn 
that was gilding the world, rushing up the 
slopes of the mountain, beat cold on his naked 
flanks. He raised his head and snorted. 

" I am a man-horse now \ " he shouted 
aloud ; and leaping from crag to crag he 
galloped by valley and chasm, by torrent-bed 
and scar of avalanche, until he came to the 
wandering leagues of the plain, and left behind 
him for ever the Athraminaurian mountains. 

His goal was Zretazoola, the city of Sombe- 

2 



THE BRIDE OF THE MAN-HORSE 

lene. What legend of Sombelene's inhuman 
beauty or of the wonder of her mystery had 
ever floated over the mundane plain to the 
fabulous cradle of the centaurs' race, the 
Athraminaurian mountains, I do not know. 
Yet in the blood of man there is a tide, an old 
sea-current rather, that is somehow akin to the 
twilight, which brings him rumours of beauty 
from however far away, as driftwood is found 
at sea from islands not yet discovered : and 
this spring-tide or current that visits the blood 
of man comes from the fabulous quarter of his 
lineage, from the legendary, the old ; it takes 
him out to the woodlands, out to the hills ; 
he listens to ancient song. So it may be that 
Shepperalk's fabulous blood stirred in those 
lonely mountains away at the edge of the 
world to rumours that only the airy twilight 
knew and only confided secretly to the bat, 
for Shepperalk was more legendary even than 
man. Certain it was that he headed from the 
first for the city of Zretazoola, where Sombe- 
lene in her temple dwelt ; though all the 
mundane plain, its rivers and mountains, 
lay between Shepperalk's home and the city 
he sought. 

When first the feet of the centaur touched 
the grass of that soft alluvial earth he blew 
for joy upon the silver horn, he pranced and 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

caracoled, he gambolled over the leagues ; 
pace came to him like a maiden with a lamp, 
a new and beautiful wonder ; the wind laughed 
as it passed him. He put his head down low 
to the scent of the flowers, he lifted it up to be 
nearer the unseen stars, he revelled through 
kingdoms, took rivers in his stride ; how shall 
I tell you, ye that dwell in cities, how shall I 
tell you what he felt as he galloped ? He felt 
for strength like the towers of Bel-Narana ; 
for lightness like those gossamer palaces that 
the fairy-spider builds 'twixt heaven and sea 
along the coasts of Zith ; for swiftness like 
some bird racing up from the morning to sing 
in some city's spires before daylight comes. 
He was the sworn companion of the wind. 
For joy he was as a song ; the lightnings of 
his legendary sires, the earlier gods, began to 
mix with his blood ; his hooves thundered. 
He came to the cities of men, and all men 
trembled, for they remembered the ancient 
mythical wars, and now they dreaded new 
battles and feared for the race of man. Not 
by Clio are these wars recorded, history does 
not know them, but what of that ? Not all 
of us have sat at historians' feet, but all have 
learned fable and myth at their mothers' 
knees. And there were none that did not fear 
strange wars when they saw Shepperalk 



THE BRIDE OF THE MAN-HORSE 

swerve and leap along the public ways. So 
he passed from city to city. 

By night he lay down unpanting in the 
reeds of some marsh or a forest ; before dawn 
he rose triumphant, and hugely drank of some 
river in the dark, and splashing out of it would 
trot to some high place to find the sunrise, 
and to send echoing eastwards the exultant 
greetings of his jubilant horn. And lo ! the 
sunrise coming up from the echoes, and the 
plains new-lit by the day, and the leagues 
spinning by like water flung from a top, and 
that gay companion, the loudly laughing wind, 
and men and the fears of men and their little 
cities ; and, after that, great rivers and waste 
spaces and huge new hills, and then new lands 
beyond them, and more cities of men, and 
always the old companion, the glorious wind. 
Kingdom by kingdom slipt by, and still his 
breath was even. "It is a golden thing to 
gallop on good turf in one's youth," said the 
young man-horse, the centaur. " Ha, ha/' 
said the wind of the hills, and the winds of the 
plain answered. 

Bells pealed in frantic towers, wise men 
consulted parchments, astrologers sought of 
the portent from the stars, the aged made 
subtle prophecies. "Is he not swift ? " said 
the young. " How glad he is," said children. 

5 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Night after night brought him sleep, and 
day after day lit his gallop, till he came to 
the lands of the Athalonian men who live by 
the edges of the mundane plain, and from 
them he came to the lands of legend again 
such as those in which he was cradled on 
the other side of the world, and which fringe 
the marge of the world and mix with the 
twilight. And there a mighty thought came 
into his untired heart, for he knew that 
he neared Zretazoola now, the city of 
Sombelene. 

It was late in the day when he neared it, 
and clouds coloured with evening rolled low 
on the plain before him ; he galloped on into 
their golden mist, and when it hid from his 
eyes the sight of things, the dreams in his 
heart awoke and romantically he pondered 
all those rumours that used to come to him 
from Sombelene, because of the fellowship 
of fabulous things. She dwelt (said evening 
secretly to the bat) in a little temple by a 
lone lake-shore. A grove of cypresses screened 
her from the city, from Zretazoola of the 
climbing ways. And opposite her temple 
stood her tomb, her sad lake-sepulchre with 
open door, lest her amazing beauty and the 
centuries of her youth should ever give rise 
to the heresy among men that lovely Sombe- 
6 



THE BRIDE OF THE MAN-HORSE 

lene was immortal : for only her beauty and 
her lineage were divine. 

Her father had been half centaur and half 
god ; her mother was the child of a desert 
lion and that sphinx that watches the pyra- 
mids ; she was more mystical than Woman. 

Her beauty was as a dream, was as a song ; 
the one dream of a lifetime dreamed on 
enchanted dews, the one song sung to some 
city by a deathless bird blown far from his 
native coasts by storm in Paradise. Dawn 
after dawn on mountains of romance or twi- 
light after twilight could never equal her 
beauty ; all the glow-worms had not the 
secret among them nor all the stars of night ; 
poets had never sung it nor evening guessed 
its meaning ; the morning envied it, it was 
hidden from lovers. 

She was unwed, unwooed. 

The lions came not to woo her because 
they feared her strength, and the gods dared 
not love her because they knew she must die. 

This was what evening had whispered to 
the bat, this was the dream in the heart of 
Shepperalk as he cantered blind through the 
mist. And suddenly there at his hooves in the 
dark of the plain appeared the cleft in the 
legendary lands, and Zretazoola sheltering in 
the cleft, and sunning herself in the evening. 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Swiftly and craftily he bounded down by 
the upper end of the cleft, and entering 
Zretazoola by the outer gate which looks out 
sheer on the stars, he galloped suddenly down 
the narrow streets. Many that rushed out 
on to balconies as he went clattering by, many 
that put their heads from glittering windows, 
are told of in olden song. Shepperalk did not 
tarry to give greetings or to answer challenges 
from martial towers, he was down through 
the earthward gateway like the thunderbolt 
of his sires, and, like Leviathan who has 
leapt at an eagle, he surged into the water 
between temple and tomb. 

He galloped with half-shut eyes up the 
temple-steps, and, only seeing dimly through 
his lashes, seized Sombelene by the hair, 
undazzled as yet by her beauty, and so haled 
her away ; and, leaping with her over the 
floorless chasm where the waters of the lake 
fall unremembered away into a hole in the 
world, took her we know not where, to be her 
slave for all those centuries that are allowed 
to his race. 

Three blasts he gave as he went upon that 
silver horn that is the world-old treasure of 
the centaurs. These were his wedding bells. 



8 




THE OMINOUS COUGH 



THE DISTRESSING TALE OF 
THANGOBRIND THE JEWELLER 

AND OF THE 
DOOM THAT BEFELL HIM 

WHEN Thangobrind the jeweller heard the 
ominous cough, he turned at once upon that 
narrow way. A thief was he, of very high 
repute, being patronised by the lofty and elect, 
for he stole nothing smaller than the Moomoo's 
egg, and in all his life stole only four kinds 
of stone the ruby, the diamond, the emerald, 
and the sapphire ; and, as jewellers go, his 
honesty was great. Now there was a Merchant 
Prince who had come to Thangobrind and 
had offered his daughter's soul for the diamond 
that is larger than the human head and was 
to be found on the lap of the spider-idol, Hlo- 
hlo, in his temple of Moung-ga-ling ; for he 
had heard that Thangobrind was a thief to be 
trusted. 

Thangobrind oiled his body and slipped out 
of his shop, and went secretly through byways, 
and got as far as Snarp, before anybody knew 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

that he was out on business again or missed 
his sword from its place under the counter. 
Thence he moved only by night, hiding by 
day and rubbing the edges of his sword, which 
he called Mouse because it was swift and 
nimble. The jeweller had subtle methods 
of travelling ; nobody saw him cross the 
plains of Zid ; nobody saw him come to Mursk 
or Tlun. O, but he loved shadows ! Once 
the moon peeping out unexpectedly from a 
tempest had betrayed an ordinary jeweller; 
not so did it undo Thangobrind : the watch- 
men only saw a crouching shape that snarled 
and laughed : " Tis but a hyena/' they said. 
Once in the city of Ag one of the guardians 
seized him, but Thangobrind was oiled and 
slipped from his hand ; you scarcely heard 
his bare feet patter away. He knew that the 
Merchant Prince awaited his return, his little 
eyes open all night and glittering with greed ; 
he knew how his daughter lay chained up and 
screaming night and day. Ah, Thangobrind 
knew. And had he not been out on business 
he had almost allowed himself one or two 
little laughs. But business was business, and 
the diamond that he sought still lay on the 
lap of Hlo-hlo, where it had been for the last 
two million years since Hlo-hlo created the 
world and gave unto it all things except that 

10 



THE TALE OF THANGOBRIND 

precious stone called Dead Man's Diamond. 
The jewel was often stolen, but it had a knack 
of coming back again to the lap of Hlo-hlo. 
Thangobrind knew this, but he was no com- 
mon jeweller and hoped to outwit Hlo-hlo, 
perceiving not the trend of ambition and lust 
and that they are vanity. 

How nimbly he threaded his way through 
the pits of Snood ! now like a botanist, 
scrutinising the ground ; now like a dancer, 
leaping from crumbling edges. It was quite 
dark when he went by the towers of Tor, 
where archers shoot ivory arrows at strangers 
lest any foreigner should alter their laws, which 
are bad, but not to be altered by mere aliens. 
At night they shoot by the sound of the 
stranger's feet. O, Thangobrind, Thangobrind, 
was ever a jeweller like you ! He dragged two 
stones behind him by long cords, and at these 
the archers shot. Tempting indeed was the 
snare that they set in Woth, the emeralds loose- 
set in the city's gate ; but Thangobrind 
discerned the golden cord that climbed the 
wall from each and the weights that would 
topple upon him if he touched one, and so he 
left them, though he left them weeping, and 
at last came to Theth. There all men worship 
Hlo-hlo ; though they are willing to believe in 
other gods, as missionaries attest, but only 

ii 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

as creatures of the chase for the hunting of 
Hlo-hlo, who wears Their halos, so these 
people say, on golden hooks along his hunting- 
belt. And from Theth he came to the city 
of Moung and the temple of Moung-ga-ling, 
and entered and saw the spider-idol, Hlo-hlo, 
sitting there with Dead Man's Diamond 
glittering on his lap, and looking for all the 
world like a full moon, but a full moon seen 
by a lunatic who had slept too long in its rays, 
for there was in Dead Man's Diamond a certain 
sinister look and a boding of things to happen 
that are better not mentioned here. The face 
of the spider-idol was lit by that fatal gem ; 
there was no other light. In spite of his 
shocking limbs and that demoniac body his 
face was serene and apparently unconscious. 
A little fear came into the mind of Thango- 
brind the jeweller, a passing tremor no more ; 
business was business and he hoped for the 
best. Thangobrind offered honey to Hlo-hlo 
and prostrated himself before him. Oh, he 
was cunning ! When the priests stole out of 
the darkness to lap up the honey they were 
stretched senseless on the temple floor, for 
there was a drug in the honey that was offered 
to Hlo-hlo. And Thangobrind the jeweller 
picked Dead Man's Diamond up and put it 
on his shoulder and trudged away from the 

12 



THE TALE OF THANGOBRIND 

shrine ; and Hlo-hlo the spider-idol said 
nothing at all, but he laughed softly as the 
jeweller shut the door. When the priests 
awoke out of the grip of the drug that was 
offered with the honey to Hlo-hlo, they rushed 
to a little secret room with an outlet on the 
stars and cast a horoscope of the thief. Some- 
thing that they saw in the horoscope seemed 
to satisfy the priests. 

It was not like Thangobrind to go back by 
the road by which he had come. No, he went 
by another road, even though it led to the 
narrow way, night-house and spider-forest. 

The city of Moung went towering up behind 
him, balcony above balcony, eclipsing half the 
stars, as he trudged away with his diamond. 
He was not easy as he trudged away. Though 
when a soft pittering as of velvet feet arose 
behind him he refused to acknowledge that 
it might be what he feared, yet the instincts 
of his trade told him that it is not well when 
any noise whatever follows a diamond by 
night, and this was one of the largest that had 
ever come to him in the way of business. 
When he came to the narrow way that leads 
to spider-forest, Dead Man's Diamond feeling 
cold and heavy, and the velvety footfall 
seeming fearfully close, the jeweller stopped 
and almost hesitated. He looked behind him ; 

13 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

there was nothing there. He listened atten- 
tively ; there was no sound now. Then he 
thought of the screams of the Merchant 
Prince's daughter, whose soul was the diamond's 
price, and smiled and went stoutly on. There 
watched him, apathetically, over the narrow 
way, that grim and dubious woman whose 
house is the Night. Thangobrind, hearing no 
longer the sound of suspicious feet, felt easier 
now. He was all but come to the end of the 
narrow way, when the woman listlessly uttered 
that ominous cough. 

The cough was too full of meaning to be 
disregarded. Thangobrind turned round and 
saw at once what he feared. The spider-idol 
had not stayed at home. The jeweller put 
his diamond gently upon the ground and drew 
his sword called Mouse. And then began that 
famous fight upon the narrow way, in which 
the grim old woman whose house was Night 
seemed to take so little interest. To the 
spider-idol you saw at once it was all a horrible 
joke. To the jeweller it was grim earnest. 
He fought and panted and was pushed back 
slowly along the narrow way, but he wounded 
Hlo-hlo all the while with terrible long gashes 
all over his deep, soft body till Mouse was 
slimy with blood. But at last the persistent 
laughter of Hlo-hlo was too much for the 

14 



THE TALE OF THANGOBRIND 

jeweller's nerves, and, once more wounding 
his demoniac foe, he sank aghast and exhausted 
by the door of the house called Night at the 
feet of the grim old woman, who having uttered 
once that ominous cough interfered no further 
with the course of events. And there carried 
Thangobrind the jeweller away those whose 
duty it was, to the house where the two men 
hang, and taking down from his hook the left- 
hand one of the two, they put that venturous 
jeweller in his place ; so that there fell on him 
the doom that he feared, as all men know 
though it is so long since, and there abated 
somewhat the ire of the envious gods. 

And the only daughter of the Merchant 
Prince felt so little gratitude for this great 
deliverance that she took to respectability of 
a militant kind, and became aggressively dull, 
and called her home the English Riviera, and 
had platitudes worked in worsted upon her 
tea-cosy, and in the end never died, but passed 
away at her residence. 



THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX 

WHEN I came to the House of the Sphinx it 
was already dark. They made me eagerly 
welcome. And I, in spite of the deed, was glad 
of any shelter from that ominous wood. I 
saw at once that there had been a deed, 
although a cloak did all that a cloak may do to 
conceal it. The mere uneasiness of the welcome 
made me suspect that cloak. 

The Sphinx was moody and silent. I had 
not come to pry into the secrets of Eternity 
nor to investigate the Sphinx's private life, 
and so had little to say and few questions to 
ask ; but to whatever I did say she remained 
morosely indifferent. It was clear that either 
she suspected me of being in search of the 
secrets of one of her gods, or of being boldly 
inquisitive about her traffic with Time, or 
else she was darkly absorbed with brooding 
upon the deed. 

I saw soon enough that there was another 
than me to welcome ; I saw it from the hurried 
way that they glanced from the door to the 

16 




THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX 



THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX 

deed and back to the door again. And it was 
clear that the welcome was to be a bolted 
door. But such bolts, and such a door ! Rust 
and decay and fungus had been there far too 
long, and it was not a barrier any longer that 
would keep out even a determined wolf. And 
it seemed to be something worse than a wolf 
that they feared. 

A little later on I gathered from what they 
said that some imperious and ghastly thing 
was looking for the Sphinx, and that some- 
thing that had happened had made its arrival 
certain. It appeared that they had slapped 
the Sphinx to vex her out of her apathy in 
order that she should pray to one of her gods, 
whom she had littered in the house of Time ; 
but her moody silence was invincible, and her 
apathy Oriental, ever since the deed had 
happened. And when they found that they 
could not make her pray, there was nothing 
for them to do but to pay little useless atten- 
tions to the rusty lock of the door, and to look 
at the deed and wonder, and even pretend to 
hope, and to say that after all it might not 
bring that destined thing from the forest, 
which no one named. 

It may be said I had chosen a gruesome 
house, but not if I had described the forest 
from which I came, and I was in need of any 

c 17 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

spot wherein I could rest my mind from the 
thought of it. 

I wondered very much what thing would 
come from the forest on account of the deed ; 
and having seen that forest as you, gentle 
reader, have not I had the advantage of 
knowing that anything might come. It was 
useless to ask the Sphinx she seldom reveals 
things, like her paramour Time (the gods take 
after her), and while this mood was on her, 
rebuff was certain. So I quietly began to oil 
the lock of the door. And as soon as they 
saw this simple act I won their confidence. 
It was not that my work was of any use it 
should have been done long before ; but they 
saw that my interest was given for the moment 
to the thing that they thought vital. They 
clustered round me then. They asked me 
what I thought of the door, and whether I 
had seen better, and whether I had seen worse ; 
and I told them about all the doors I knew, 
and said that the doors of the baptistery in 
Florence were better doors, and the doors 
made by a certain firm of builders in London 
were worse. And then I asked them what it 
was that was coming after the Sphinx because 
of the deed. And at first they would not say, 
and I stopped oiling the door ; and then they 
said that it was the arch-inquisitor of the 

18 



THE HOUSE OF THE SPHINX 

forest, who is investigator and avenger of all 
silvestrian things ; and from all that they 
said about him it seemed to me that this 
person was quite white, and was a kind of 
madness that would settle down quite blankly 
upon the place, a kind of mist in which reason 
could not live ; and it was the fear of this that 
made them fumble nervously at the lock of 
that rotten door ; but with the Sphinx it was 
not so much fear as sheer prophecy. 

The hope that they tried to hope was well 
enough in its way, but I did not share it ; it 
was clear that the thing that they feared was 
the corollary of the deed one saw that more 
by the resignation upon the face of the Sphinx 
than by their sorry anxiety for the door. 

The wind soughed, and the great tapers 
flared, and their obvious fear and the silence 
of the Sphinx grew more than ever a part of 
the atmosphere, and bats went restlessly 
through the gloom of the wind that beat the 
tapers low. 

Then a few things screamed far off, then a 
little nearer, and something was coming 
towards us, laughing hideously. I hastily 
gave a prod to the door that they guarded ; 
my finger sank right into the mouldering wood 
there was not a chance of holding it. I had 
not leisure to observe their fright ; I thought 

19 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

of the back-door, for the forest was better 
than this ; only the Sphinx was absolutely 
calm, her prophecy was made and she seemed 
to have seen her doom, so that no new thing 
could perturb her. 

But by mouldering rungs of ladders as old 
as Man, by slippery edges of the dreaded abyss, 
with an ominous dizziness about my heart 
and a feeling of horror in the soles of my feet 
I clambered from tower to tower till I found 
the door that I sought ; and it opened on to 
one of the upper branches of a huge and 
sombre pine, down which I climbed on to the 
floor of the forest. And I was glad to be back 
again in the forest from which I had fled. 

And the Sphinx in her menaced house I 
know not how she fared whether she gazes 
for ever, disconsolate, at the deed, remem- 
bering only in her smitten mind, at which 
little boys now leer, that she once knew well 
those things at which Man stands aghast ; or 
whether in the end she crept away, and 
clambering horribly from abyss to abyss, 
came at last to higher things, and is wise and 
eternal still. For who knows of madness 
whether it is divine or whether it be of the 
pit? 



20 



THE PROBABLE ADVENTURE 
OF THE THREE LITERARY MEN 

WHN the nomads came to El Lola they had 
no more songs, and the question of stealing 
the golden box arose in all its magnitude. On 
the one hand, many had sought the golden 
box, the receptacle (as the Aethiopians know) 
of poems of fabulous value ; and their doom 
is still the common talk of Arabia. On the 
other hand, it was lonely to sit round the camp- 
fire by night with no new songs. 

It was the tribe of Heth that discussed 
these things one evening upon the plains 
below the peak of Mluna. Their native land 
was the track across the world of immemorial 
wanderers ; and there was trouble among the 
elders of the nomads because there were no 
new songs ; while, untouched by human 
trouble, untouched as yet by the night that was 
hiding the plains away, the peak of Mluna, 
calm in the after-glow, looked on the Dubious 
Land. And it was there on the plain upon the 
known side of Mluna, just as the evening star 

21 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

came mouse-like into view and the flames of 
the camp-fire lifted their lonely plumes un- 
cheered by any song, that that rash scheme 
was hastily planned by the nomads which the 
world has named The Quest of the Golden 
Box. 

No measure of wiser precaution could the 
elders of the nomads have taken than to 
choose for their thief that very Slith, that 
identical thief that (even as I write) in how 
many school-rooms governesses teach stole a 
march on the King of Westalia. Yet the 
weight of the box was such that others had 
to accompany him, and Sippy and Slorg were 
no more agile thieves than may be found to- 
day among vendors of the antique. 

So over the shoulder of Mluna these three 
climbed next day and slept as well as they 
might among its snows rather than risk a 
night in the woods of the Dubious Land. And 
the morning came up radiant and the birds 
were full of song, but the forest underneath 
and the waste beyond it and the bare and 
ominous crags all wore the appearance of an 
unuttered threat. 

Though Slith had an experience of twenty 
years of theft, yet he said little ; only if one 
of the others made a stone roll with his foot, 
or, later on in the forest, if one of them stepped 

22 



THE THREE LITERARY MEN 

on a twig, he whispered sharply to them 
always the same words : " That is not busi- 
ness." He knew that he could not make them 
better thieves during a two days' journey, 
and whatever doubts he had he interfered no 
further. 

From the shoulder of Mluna they dropped 
into the clouds, and from the clouds to the 
forest, to whose native beasts, as well the 
three thieves knew, all flesh was meat, whether 
it were the flesh of fish or man. There the 
thieves drew idolatrously from their pockets 
each one a separate god and prayed for pro- 
tection in the unfortunate wood, and hoped 
therefrom for a threefold chance of escape, 
since if anything should eat one of them 
it were certain to eat them all, and they 
confided that the corollary might be true and 
all should escape if one did. Whether one 
of these gods was propitious and awake, or 
whether all of the three, or whether it was 
chance that brought them through the forest 
unmouthed by detestable beasts, none knoweth ; 
but certainly neither the emissaries of the 
god that most they feared, nor the wrath 
of the topical god of that ominous place, 
brought their doom to the three adventurers 
there or then. And so it was that they came 
to Rumbly Heath, in the heart of the Dubious 

23 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Land, whose stormy hillocks were the ground- 
swell and the after-wash of the earthquake 
lulled for a while. Something so huge that 
it seemed unfair to man that it should 
move so softly stalked splendidly by them, 
and only so barely did they escape its notice 
that one word rang and echoed through 
their three imaginations " If if if." And 
when this danger was at last gone by they 
moved cautiously on again and presently 
saw the little harmless mipt, half fairy and 
half gnome, giving shrill contented squeaks 
on the edge of the world. And they edged 
away unseen, for they said that the inquisi- 
tiveness of the mipt had become fabulous, 
and that, harmless as he was, he had' a bad 
way with secrets ; yet they probably loathed 
the way that he nuzzles dead white bones, 
and would not admit their loathing, for it 
does not become adventurers to care who eats 
their bones. Be this as it may, they edged 
away from the mipt, and came almost at once 
to the wizened tree, the goalpost of their 
adventure, and knew that beside them was 
the crack in the World and the bridge from 
Bad to Worse, and that underneath them 
stood the rocky house of Owner of the Box. 

This was their simple plan : to slip into 
the corridor in the upper cliff ; to run softly 

24 



THE THREE LITERARY MEN 

down it (of course with naked feet) under the 
warning to travellers that is graven upon stone, 
which interpreters take to be " It Is Better 
Not " ; not to touch the berries that are there 
for a purpose, on the right side going down ; 
and so to come to the guardian on his pedestal 
who had slept for a thousand years and should 
be sleeping still ; and go in through the open 
window. One man was to wait outside by 
the crack in the World until the others came 
out with the golden box, and, should they 
cry for help, he was to threaten at once to 
unfasten the iron clamp that kept the crack 
together. When the box was secured they 
were to travel all night and all the following 
day, until the cloud-banks that wrapped the 
slopes of Mluna were well between them and 
Owner of the Box. 

The door in the cliff was open. They passed 
without a murmur down the cold steps, Slith 
leading them all the way. A glance of longing, 
no more, each gave to the beautiful berries. 
The guardian upon his pedestal was still asleep. 
Slorg climbed by a ladder, that Slith knew 
where to find, to the iron clamp across the 
crack in the World, and waited beside it with 
a chisel in his hand, listening closely for any- 
thing untoward, while his friends slipped 
into the house ; and no sound came. And 

25 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

presently Slith and Sippy found the golden 
box : everything seemed happening as they 
had planned, it only remained to see if it was 
the right one and to escape with it from that 
dreadful place. Under the shelter of the 
pedestal, so near to the guardian that they 
could feel his warmth, which paradoxically 
had the effect of chilling the blood of the 
boldest of them, they smashed the emerald 
hasp and opened the golden box ; and there 
they read by the light of ingenious sparks 
which Slith knew how to contrive, and even 
this poor light they hid with their bodies. 
What was their joy, even at that perilous 
moment, as they lurked between the guardian 
and the abyss, to find that the box contained 
fifteen peerless odes in the alcaic form, five 
sonnets that were by far the most beautiful 
in the world, nine ballads in the manner of 
Provence that had no equal in the treasuries 
of man, a poem addressed to a moth in twenty- 
eight perfect stanzas, a piece of blank verse 
of over a hundred lines on a level not yet 
known to have been attained by man, as well 
as fifteen lyrics on which no merchant would 
dare to set a price. They would have read 
them again, for they gave happy tears to a 
man and memories of dear things done in 
infancy, and brought sweet voices from far 

26 



THE THREE LITERARY MEN 

sepulchres ; but Slith pointed imperiously to 
the way by which they had come, and ex- 
tinguished the light ; and Slorg and Sippy 
sighed, then took the box. 

The guardian still slept the sleep that 
survived a thousand years. 

As they came away they saw that indulgent 
chair close by the edge of the World in which 
Owner of the Box had lately sat reading 
selfishly and alone the most beautiful songs 
and verses that poet ever dreamed. 

They came in silence to the foot of the 
stairs ; and then it befell that as they drew 
near safety, in the night's most secret hour, 
some hand in an upper chamber lit a shocking 
light, lit it and made no sound. 

For a moment it might have been an 
ordinary light, fatal as even that could very 
well be at such a moment as this ; but when 
it began to follow them like an eye and to 
grow redder and redder as it watched them, 
then even optimism despaired. 

And Sippy very unwisely attempted flight, 
and Slorg even as unwisely tried to hide ; but 
Slith, knowing well why that light was lit in 
that secret upper chamber and who it was that 
lit it, leaped over the edge of the World and 
is falling from us still through the unrever- 
berate blackness of the abyss. 

27 



THE INJUDICIOUS PRAYERS OF 
POMBO THE IDOLATER 

POMBO the idolater had prayed to Ammuz a 
simple prayer, a necessary prayer, such as even 
an idol of ivory could very easily grant, and 
Ammuz had not immediately granted it. 
Pombo had therefore prayed to Tharma for 
the overthrow of Ammuz, an idol friendly to 
Tharma, and in doing this offended against the 
etiquette of the gods. Tharma refused to grant 
the little prayer. Pombo prayed frantically to 
all the gods of idolatry, for though it was a 
simple matter, yet it was very necessary to a 
man. And gods that were older than Ammuz 
rejected the prayers of Pombo, and even gods 
that were younger and therefore of greater 
repute. He prayed to them one by one, and 
they all refused to hear him ; nor at first did 
he think at all of that subtle, divine etiquette 
against which he had offended. It occurred 
to him all at once as he prayed to his fiftieth 
idol, a little green-jade god whom the Chinese 
know, that all the idols were in league against 

28 



POMBO THE IDOLATER 

him. When Pombo discovered this he re- 
sented his birth bitterly, and made lamenta- 
tions and alleged that he was lost. He might 
have been seen in any part of London haunting 
curiosity-shops and places where they sold 
idols of ivory or of stone, for he dwelt in 
London with others of his race though he was 
born in Burmah among those who hold Ganges 
holy. On drizzly evenings of November's 
worst his haggard face could be seen in the 
glow of some shop pressed close against the 
glass, where he would supplicate some calm 
cross-legged idol till policemen moved him on. 
And after closing hours back he would go to 
his dingy room, in that part of our capital 
where English is seldom spoken, to supplicate 
little idols of his own. And when Pombo's 
simple, necessary prayer was equally refused 
by the idols of museums, auction-rooms, 
shops, then he took counsel with himself and 
purchased incense and burned it in a brazier 
before his own cheap little idols, and played 
the while upon an instrument such as that 
wherewith men charm snakes. And still the 
idols clung to their etiquette. 

Whether Pombo knew about this etiquette 
and considered it frivolous in the face of his 
need, or whether his need, now grown desperate, 
unhinged his mind, I know not, but Pombo 

29 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the idolater took a stick and suddenly turned 
iconoclast. 

Pombo the iconoclast immediately left his 
house, leaving his idols to be swept away with 
the dust and so to mingle with Man, and went 
to an arch-idolater of repute who carved idols 
out of rare stones, and put his case before him. 
The arch-idolater who made idols of his own 
rebuked Pombo in the name of Man for having 
broken his idols " for hath not Man made 
them ? " the arch-idolater said ; and con- 
cerning the idols themselves he spoke long 
and learnedly, explaining divine etiquette, and 
how Pombo had offended, and how no idol in 
the world would listen to Pombo's prayer. 
When Pombo heard this he wept and made 
bitter outcry, and cursed the gods of ivory 
and the gods of jade, and the hand of Man 
that made them, but most of all he cursed 
their etiquette that had undone, as he said, 
an innocent man ; so that at last that arch- 
idolater, who made idols of his own, stopped 
in his work upon an idol of jasper for a king 
that was weary of Wosh, and took compassion 
on Pombo, and told him that though no idol 
in the world would listen to his prayer, yet 
only a little way over the edge of it a certain 
disreputable idol sat who knew nothing of 
etiquette, and granted prayers that no re- 

30 



POMBO THE IDOLATER 

spectable god would ever consent to hear. 
When Pombo heard this he took two handfuls 
of the arch-idolater's beard and kissed them 
joyfully, and dried his tears and became his 
old impertinent self again. And he that 
carved from jasper the usurper of Wosti ex- 
plained how in the village of World's End, 
at the furthest end of Last Street, there is a 
hole that you take to be a well, close by the 
garden wall, but that if you lower yourself by 
your hands over the edge of the hole, and feel 
about with your feet till they find a ledge, that 
is the top step of a flight of stairs that takes 
you down over the edge of the World. " For all 
that men know, those stairs may have a purpose 
and even a bottom step/' said the arch- 
idolater, "but discussion about the lower 
flights is idle." Then the teeth of Pombo 
chattered, for he feared the darkness, but he that 
made idols of his own explained that those stairs 
were always lit by the faint blue gloaming 
in which the World spins. " Then," he said, 
" you will go by Lonely House and under the 
bridge that leads from the House to Nowhere, 
and whose purpose is not guessed ; thence 
past Maharrion, the god of flowers, and his 
high-priest, who is neither bird nor cat ; and 
so you will come to the little idol Duth, the 
disreputable god that will grant your prayer." 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

And he went on carving again at his idol of 
jasper for the king who was weary of Wosh ; 
and Pombo thanked him and went singing 
away, for in his vernacular mind he thought 
that " he had the gods." 

It is a long journey from London to World's 
End, and Pombo had no money left, yet 
within five weeks he was strolling along Last 
Street ; but how he contrived to get there I 
will not say, for it was not entirely honest. 
And Pombo found the well at the end of the 
garden beyond the end house of Last Street, 
and many thoughts ran through his mind as he 
hung by his hands from the edge, but chiefest 
of all those thoughts was one that said the 
gods were laughing at him through the mouth 
of the arch-idolater, their prophet, and the 
thought beat in his head till it ached like his 
wrists . . . and then he found the step. 

And Pombo walked downstairs. There, 
sure enough, was the gloaming in which the 
world spins, and stars shone far off in it 
faintly ; there was nothing before him as he 
went downstairs but that strange blue waste 
of gloaming, with its multitudes of stars, 
and comets plunging through it on outward 
journeys, and comets returning home. And 
then he saw the lights of the bridge to Nowhere, 
and all of a sudden he was in the glare of the 

32 



POMBO THE IDOLATER 

shimmering parlour-window of Lonely House ; 
and he heard voices there pronouncing words, 
and the voices were nowise human, and but 
for his bitter need he had screamed and fled. 
Halfway between the voices and Maharrion, 
whom he now saw standing out from the world, 
covered in rainbow halos, he perceived the 
weird grey beast that is neither cat nor bird. 
As Pombo hesitated, chilly with fear, he heard 
those voices grow louder in Lonely House, and 
at that he stealthily moved a few steps lower, 
and then rushed past the beast. The beast 
intently watched Maharrion hurling up bubbles 
that are every one a season of spring in un- 
known constellations, calling the swallows 
home to unimagined fields, watched him with- 
out even turning to look at Pombo, and saw 
him drop into the Linlunlarna, the river that 
rises at the edge of the World, the golden 
pollen that sweetens the tide of the river and 
is carried away from the World to be a joy to 
the Stars. And there before Pombo was the 
little disreputable god who cares nothing for 
etiquette and will answer prayers that are 
refused by all the respectable idols. And 
whether the view of him, at last, excited 
Pombo's eagerness, or whether his need was 
greater than he could bear that it drove him 
so swiftly downstairs, or whether, as is most 

D 33 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

likely, he ran too fast past the beast, I do not 
know, and it does not matter to Pombo ; but 
at any rate he could not stop, as he had 
designed, in attitude of prayer at the feet of 
Duth, but ran on past him down the narrowing 
steps, clutching at smooth bare rocks till he fell 
from the World as we, when our hearts miss a 
beat, fall in dreams and wake up with a dreadful 
jolt ; but there was no waking up for Pombo, 
who still fell on towards the incurious stars, 
and his fate is even one with the fate of Slith. 



34 



THE LOOT OF BOMBASHARNA 

THINGS had grown too hot for Shard, captain 
of pirates, on all the seas that he knew. The 
ports of Spain were closed to him ; they knew 
him in San Domingo ; men winked in Syracuse 
when he went by ; the two Kings of the 
Sicilies never smiled within an hour of speaking 
of him ; there were huge rewards for his head 
in every capital city, with pictures of it for 
identification and all the pictures were un- 
flattering. Therefore Captain Shard decided 
that the time had come to tell his men the 
secret. 

Riding off Teneriffe one night, he called 
them together. He generously admitted that 
there were things in the past that might 
require explanation : the crowns that the 
Princes of Aragon had sent to their nephews 
the Kings of the two Americas had certainly 
never reached their Most Sacred Majesties. 
Where, men might ask, were the eyes of 
Captain Stobbud ? Who had been burning 
towns on the Patagonian seaboard ? Why 

35 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

should such a ship as theirs choose pearls for 
cargo ? Why so much blood on the decks 
and so many guns ? And where was the 
Nancy, the Lark, or the Margaret Bell? 
Srioh questions as these, he urged, might be 
asked by the inquisitive, and if counsel for 
the defence should happen to be a fool, and 
unacquainted with the ways of the sea, they 
might become involved in troublesome legal 
formulae. And Bloody Bill, as they rudely 
called Mr. Gagg, a member of the crew, looked 
up at the sky, and said that it was a windy 
night and looked like hanging. And some of 
those present thoughtfully stroked their necks 
while Captain Shard unfolded to them his 
plan. He said the time was come to quit the 
Desperate Lark, for she was too well known 
to the navies of four kingdoms, and a fifth was 
getting to know her, and others had suspicions. 
(More cutters than even Captain Shard sus- 
pected were already looking for her jolly black 
flag with its neat skull-and-crossbones in 
yellow.) There was a little archipelago that 
he knew of on the wrong side of the Sargasso 
Sea ; there were about thirty islands there, 
bare, ordinary islands, but one of them floated. 
He had noticed -it years ago, and had gone 
ashore and never told a soul but had quietly 
anchored it with the anchor of his ship to the 

36 



THE LOOT OF BOMBASHARNA 

bottom of the sea, which just there was pro- 
foundly deep, and had made the thing the 
secret of his life, determined to marry and 
settle down there if it ever became impossible 
to earn his livelihood in the usual way at sea. 
When first he saw it it was drifting slowly, with 
the wind in the tops of the trees ; but if the 
cable had not rusted away, it should be still 
where he left it, and they would make a rudder 
and hollow out cabins below, and at night 
they would hoist sails to the trunks of the 
trees and sail wherever they liked. 

And all the pirates cheered, for they wanted 
to set their feet on land again somewhere 
where the hangman would not come and jerk 
them off it at once ; and, bold men though 
they were, it was a strain seeing so many lights 
coming their way at night. Even then . . . ! 
But it swerved away again and was lost in the 
mist. 

And Captain Shard said that they would 
need to get provisions first, and he, for one, 
intended to marry before he settled down ; 
and so they should have one more fight before 
they left the ship, and sack the sea-coast city 
Bombasharna and take from it provisions 
for several years, while he himself would 
marry the Queen of the South. And again 
the pirates cheered, for often they had seen 

37 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

sea-coast Bombasharna, and had always envied 
its opulence from the sea. 

So they set all sail, and often altered their 
course, and dodged and fled from strange 
lights till dawn appeared, and all day long 
fled southwards. And by evening they saw the 
silver spires of slender Bombasharna, a city 
that was the glory of the coast. And in the 
midst of it, far away though they were, they 
saw the palace of the Queen of the South ; 
and it was so full of windows all looking 
toward the sea, and they were so full of light, 
both from the sunset that was fading upon 
the water and from the candles that maids 
were lighting one by one, that it looked far 
off like a pearl, shimmering still in its haliotis 
shell, still wet from the sea. 

So Captain Shard and his pirates saw it, at 
evening over the water, and thought of 
rumours that said that Bombasharna was the 
loveliest city of the coasts of the world, and 
that its palace was lovelier even than Bom- 
basharna ; but for the Queen of the South 
rumour had no comparison. Then night came 
down and hid the silver spires, and Shard 
slipped on through the gathering darkness 
until by midnight the piratic ship lay under 
the seaward battlements. 

And at the hour when sick men mostly die, 

38 



THE LOOT OF BOMBASHARNA 

and sentries on lonely ramparts stand to their 
arms, exactly half-an-hour before dawn, Shard, 
with two rowing boats and half his crew, with 
craftily muffled oars, landed below the battle- 
ments. They were through the gateway of 
the palace itself before the alarm was sounded, 
and as soon as they heard the alarm Shard's 
gunners at sea opened upon the town, and, 
before the sleepy soldiery of Bombasharna 
knew whether the danger was from the land 
or the sea, Shard had successfully captured 
the Queen of the South. They would have 
looted all day that silver sea-coast city, but 
there appeared with dawn suspicious topsails 
just along the horizon. Therefore the captain 
with his Queen went down to the shore at 
once and hastily re-embarked and sailed away 
with what loot they had hurriedly got, and 
with fewer men, for they had to fight a good 
deal to get back to the boat. They cursed all 
day the interference of those ominous ships 
which steadily grew nearer. There were six 
ships at first, and that night they slipped 
away from all but two ; but all the next day 
those two were still in sight, and each of them 
had more guns than the Desperate Lark. All 
the next night Shard dodged about the sea, 
but the two ships separated and one kept him 
in sight, and the next morning it was alone 

39 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

with Shard on the sea, and his archipelago 
was just in sight, the secret of his life. 

And Shard saw he must fight, and a bad 
fight it was, and yet it suited Shard's purpose, 
for he had more merry men when the fight 
began than he needed for his island. And they 
got it over before any other ship came up ; 
and Shard put all adverse evidence out of the 
way, and came that night to the islands near 
the Sargasso Sea. 

Long before it was light the survivors of the 
crew were peering at the sea, and when dawn 
came there was the island, no bigger than two 
ships, straining hard at its anchor, with the 
wind in the tops of the trees. 

And then they landed and dug cabins below 
and raised the anchor out of the deep sea, and 
soon they made the island what they called 
shipshape. But the Desperate Lark they sent 
away empty under full sail to sea, where more 
nations than Shard suspected were watching 
for her, and where she was presently captured 
by an admiral of Spain, who, when he found 
none of that famous crew on board to hang by 
the neck from the yard-arm, grew ill through 
disappointment . 

And Shard on his island offered the Queen 
of the South the choicest of the old wines of 
Provence, and for adornment gave her Indian 

40 



THE LOOT OF BOMBASHARNA 

jewels looted from galleons with treasure for 
Madrid, and spread a table where she dined in 
the sun, while in some cabin below he bade the 
least coarse of his mariners sing ; yet always 
she was morose and moody towards him, and 
often at evening he was heard to say that he 
wished he knew more about the ways of 
Queens. So they lived for years, the pirates 
mostly gambling and drinking below, Captain 
Shard trying to please the Queen of the South, 
and she never wholly forgetting Bombasharna. 
When they needed new provisions they hoisted 
sails on the trees, and as long as no ship came 
in sight they scudded before the wind, with the 
water rippling over the beach of the island ; 
but as soon as they sighted a ship the sails 
came down, and they became an ordinary 
uncharted rock. 

They mostly moved by night ; sometimes 
they hovered off sea-coast towns as of old, 
sometimes they boldly entered river-mouths, 
and even attached themselves for a while to 
the mainland, whence they would plunder the 
neighbourhood and escape again to sea. And 
if a ship was wrecked on their island of a night 
they said it was all to the good. They grew 
very crafty in seamanship, and cunning in 
what they did, for they knew that any news 
of the Desperate Lark's old crew would bring 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

hangmen from the interior running down to 
every port. 

And no one is known to have found them out 
or to have annexed their island ; but a rumour 
arose and passed from port to port and every 
place where sailors meet together, and even 
survives to this day, of a dangerous uncharted 
rock anywhere between Plymouth and the 
Horn, which would suddenly rise in the safest 
track of ships, and upon which vessels were 
supposed to have been wrecked, leaving, 
strangely enough, no evidence of their doom. 
There was a little speculation about it at first, 
till it was silenced by the chance remark of a 
man old with wandering ; " It is one of the 
mysteries that haunt the sea." 

And almost Captain Shard and the Queen of 
the South lived happily ever after, though still 
at evening those on watch in the trees would 
see their captain sit with a puzzled air or hear 
him muttering now and again in a discontented 
way : "I wish I knew more about the ways of 
Queens." 



42 




"I WISH I KNEW MORE ABOUT THE WAYS OF QUEENS 



MISS CUBBIDGE AND THE 
DRAGON OF ROMANCE 

This tale is told in the balconies of Belgrave 
Square and among the towers of Pont Street ; 
men sing it at evening in the Brompton Road. 

LITTLE upon her eighteenth birthday thought 
Miss Cubbidge, of Number I2A Prince of 
Wales' Square, that before another year had 
gone its way she would lose the sight of that 
unshapely oblong that was so long her home. 
And, had you told her further that within 
that year all trace of that so-called square, 
and of the day when her father was elected 
by a thumping majority to share in the 
guidance of the destinies of the empire, should 
utterly fade from her memory, she would merely 
have said in that affected voice of hers, " Go 
to!" 

There was nothing about it in the daily 
Press, the policy of her father's party had no 
provision for it, there was no hint of it in 
conversation at evening parties to which Miss 

43 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Cubbidge went : there was nothing to warn 
her at all that a loathsome dragon with golden 
scales that rattled as he went should have 
come up clean out of the prime of romance and 
gone by night (so far as we know) through 
Hammersmith, and come to Ardle Mansions, 
and then have turned to his left, which of course 
brought him to Miss Cubbidge's father's house. 
There sat Miss Cubbidge at evening on her 
balcony quite alone, waiting for her father to 
be made a baronet. She was wearing walking- 
boots and a hat and a low-necked evening 
dress ; for a painter was but just now painting 
her portrait and neither she nor the painter 
saw anything odd in the strange combination. 
She did not notice the roar of the dragon's 
golden scales, nor distinguish above the mani- 
fold lights of London the small, red glare of 
his eyes. He suddenly lifted his head, a blaze 
of gold, over the balcony ; he did not appear a 
yellow dragon then, for his glistening scales 
reflected the beauty that London puts upon her 
only at evening and night. She screamed, but 
to no knight, nor knew what knight to call on, 
nor guessed where were the dragons' over- 
throwers of far, romantic days, nor what 
mightier game they chased or what wars they 
waged ; perchance they were busy even then 
arming for Armageddon. 

44 



MISS CUBBIDGE AND THE DRAGON 

Out of the balcony of her father's house in 
Prince of Wales' Square, the painted dark- 
green balcony that grew blacker every year, 
the dragon lifted Miss Cubbidge and spread his 
rattling wings, and London fell away like an 
old fashion. And England fell away, and the 
smoke of its factories, and the round material 
world that goes humming round the sun vexed 
and pursued by Time, until there appeared the 
eternal and ancient lands of Romance lying 
low by mystical seas. 

You had not pictured Miss Cubbidge stroking 
the golden head of one of the dragons of song 
with one hand idly, while with the other she 
sometimes played with pearls brought up from 
lonely places of the sea. They filled huge 
haliotis shells with pearls and laid them there 
beside her, they brought her emeralds which 
she set to flash among the tresses of her long 
black hair, they brought her threaded sapphires 
for her cloak : all this the princes of fable did 
and the elves and the gnomes of myth. And 
partly she still lived, and partly she was one 
with long-ago and with those sacred tales that 
nurses tell, when all their children are good, 
and evening has come, and the fire is burning 
well, and the soft pat-pat of the snow-flakes 
on the pane is like the furtive tread of fearful 
things in old, enchanted woods. If at first she 

45 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

missed those dainty novelties among which she 
was reared, the old, sufficient song of the 
mystical sea singing of faery lore at first 
soothed and at last consoled her. Even, she 
forgot those advertisements of pills that are 
so dear to England ; even, she forgot political 
cant and the things that one discusses and the 
things that one does not, and had perforce to 
content herself with seeing sailing by huge 
golden-laden galleons with treasure for Madrid, 
and the merry skull-and-crossbones of the 
pirateers, and the tiny nautilus setting out to 
sea, and ships of heroes trafficking in romance 
or of princes seeking for enchanted isles. 

It was not by chains that the dragon kept 
her there, but by one of the spells of old. To 
one to whom the facilities of the daily Press 
had for so long been accorded spells would have 
palled you would have said and galleons 
after a time and all things out-of-date. 
After a time. But whether the centuries passed 
her or whether the years or whether no time 
at all, she did not know. If anything indicated 
the passing of time it was the rhythm of elfin 
horns blowing upon the heights. If the 
centuries went by her the spell that bound her 
gave her also perennial youth, and kept alight 
for ever the lantern by her side, and saved 
from decay the marble palace facing the 



MISS CUBBIDGE AND THE DRAGON 

mystical sea. And if no time went by her 
there at all, her single moment on those 
marvellous coasts was turned as it were to a 
crystal reflecting a thousand scenes. If it 
was all a dream, it was a dream that knew no 
morning and no fading away. The tide roamed 
on and whispered of mystery and of myth, 
while near that captive lady, asleep in his 
marble tank the golden dragon dreamed : 
and a little way out from the coast all that 
the dragon dreamed showed faintly in the 
mist that lay over the sea. He never dreamed 
of any rescuing knight. So long as he dreamed, 
it was twilight ; but when he came up nimbly 
out of his tank night fell and starlight glistened 
on the dripping, golden scales. 

There he and his captive either defeated 
Time or never encountered him at all ; while, 
in the world we know, raged Roncesvalles or 
battles yet to be I know not to what part of 
the shore of Romance he bore her. Perhaps 
she became one of those princesses of whom 
fable loves to tell, but let it suffice that there 
she lived by the sea : and kings ruled, and 
Demos ruled, and kings came again, and many 
cities returned to their native dust, and still 
she abided there, and still her marble palace 
passed not away nor the power that there was 
in the dragon's spell. 

47 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

And only once did there ever come to her a 
message from the world that of old she knew, 
it came in a pearly ship across the mystical 
sea, it was from an old school-friend that she 
had had in Putney, merely a note, no more, 
in a little, neat, round hand : it said, " It is 
not Proper for you to be there alone/' 



THE QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S 
TEARS 

SYLVIA, Queen of the Woods, in her wood- 
land palace, held court, and made a mockery 
of her suitors. She would sing to them, she 
said, she would give them banquets, she would 
tell them tales of legendary days, her jugglers 
should caper before them, her armies salute 
them, her fools crack jests with them and make 
whimsical quips, only she could not love them. 

This was not the way, they said, to treat 
princes in their splendour and mysterious 
troubadours concealing kingly names ; it was 
not in accordance with fable ; myth had no 
precedent for it. She should have thrown her 
glove, they said, into some lion's den, she should 
have asked for a score of venomous heads of 
the serpents of Licantara, or demanded the 
death of any notable dragon, or sent them all 
upon some deadly quest, but that she could 

not love them ! It was unheard of it had 

no parallel in the annals of romance. 

And then she said that if they must needs 

E 49 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

have a quest she would offer her hand to him 
who first should move her to tears : and the 
quest should be called, for reference in histories 
or song, the Quest of the Queen's Tears, and 
he that achieved them she would wed, be he 
only a petty duke of lands unknown to romance. 

And many were moved to anger, for they 
hoped for some bloody quest ; but the old 
lords chamberlain said, as they muttered 
among themselves in a far, dark end of the 
chamber, that the quest was hard and wise, 
for that if she could ever weep she might also 
love. They had known her all her childhood ; 
she had never sighed. Many men had she seen 
suitors and courtiers, and had never turned 
her head after one went by. Her beauty 
was as still sunsets of bitter evenings when 
all the world is frore, a wonder and a chill. 
She was as a sun-stricken mountain uplifted 
alone, all beautiful with ice, a desolate and 
lonely radiance late at evening far up beyond 
the comfortable world, not quite to be com- 
panioned by the stars, the doom of the 
mountaineer. 

If she could weep, they said, she could love, 
they said. 

And she smiled pleasantly on those ardent 
princes, and troubadours concealing kingly 
names. 

50 



QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S TEARS 

Then one by one they told, each suitor prince 
the story of his love, with outstretched hands 
and kneeling on the knee ; and very sorry and 
pitiful were the tales, so that often up in the 
galleries some maid of the palace wept. And 
very graciously she nodded her head like a 
listless magnolia in the deeps of the night 
moving idly to all the breezes its glorious 
bloom. 

And when the princes had told their desperate 
loves and had departed away with no other* 
spoil than of their own tears only, even then 
there came the unknown troubadours and 
told their tales in song, concealing their gracious 
names. 

And one there was, Ackronnion, clothed 
with rags, on which was the dust of roads, 
and underneath the rags was war-scarred 
armour whereon were the dints of blows ; and 
when he stroked his harp and sang his song, 
in gallery above gallery maidens wept, and 
even the old lords chamberlain whimpered 
among themselves and thereafter laughed 
through their tears and said : " It is easy to 
make old people weep and to bring idle tears 
from lazy girls ; but he will not set a-weeping 
the Queen of the Woods." 

And graciously she nodded, and he was the 
last. And disconsolate went away those dukes 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

and princes, and troubadours in disguise. Yet 
Ackronnion pondered as he went away. 

King was he of Afarmah, Lool and Haf, 
over-lord of Zeroora and hilly Chang, and 
duke of the dukedoms of Molong and Mlash, 
none of them unfamiliar with romance or 
unknown or overlooked in the making of myth. 
He pondered as he went in his thin disguise. 

Now by those that do not remember their 
childhood, having other things to do, be it 
understood that underneath fairyland, which 
is, as all men know, at the edge of the 
world, there dwelleth the Gladsome Beast. A 
synonym he for joy. 

It is known how the lark in its zenith, 
children at play out-of-doors, good witches 
and jolly old parents have all been compared 
and how aptly ! with this very same 
Gladsome Beast. Only one " crab " he has 
(if I may use slang for a moment to make 
myself perfectly clear), only one drawback, 
and that is that in the gladness of his heart 
he spoils the cabbages of the Old Man Who 
Looks After Fairyland, and of course he eats 
men. 

It must further be understood that whoever 
may obtain the tears of the Gladsome Beast 
in a bowl, and become drunken upon them, 
may move all persons to shed tears of joy so 

52 



QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S TEARS 

long as he remains inspired by the potion to 
sing or to make music. 

Now Ackronnion pondered in this wise : 
that if he could obtain the tears of the Glad- 
some Beast by means of his art, withholding 
him from violence by the spell of music, and 
if a friend should slay the Gladsome Beast 
before his weeping ceased for an end must 
come to weeping even with men that so he 
might get safe away with the tears, and drink 
them before the Queen of the Woods and move 
her to tears of joy. He sought out therefore 
a humble, knightly man who cared not for the 
beauty of Sylvia, Queen of the Woods, but 
had found a woodland maiden of his own once 
long ago in summer. And the man's name was 
Arrath, a subject of Ackronnion, a knight-at- 
arms of the spear-guard : and together they 
set out through the fields of fable until they 
came to Fairyland, a kingdom sunning itself 
(as all men know) for leagues along the edges 
of the world. And by a strange old pathway 
they came to the land they sought, through 
a wind blowing up the pathway sheer from 
space with a kind of metallic taste from the 
roving stars. Even so they came to the 
windy house of thatch where dwells the Old 
Man Who Looks After Fairyland sitting by 
parlour windows that look away from the 

53 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

world. He made them welcome in his star- 
ward parlour, telling them tales of Space, and 
when they named to him their perilous quest 
he said it would be a charity to kill the Glad- 
some Beast ; for he was clearly one of those 
that liked not its happy ways. And then he 
took them out through his back door, for the 
front door had no pathway nor even a step 
from it the old man used to empty his slops 
sheer on to the Southern Cross and so they 
came to the garden wherein his cabbages were, 
and those flowers that only blow in Fairyland, 
turning their faces always towards the comet, 
and he pointed them out the way to the place 
he called Underneath, where the Gladsome 
Beast had his lair. Then they manoeuvred. 
Ackronnion was to go by the way of the steps 
with his harp and an agate bowl, while Arrath 
went round by a crag on the other side. Then 
the Old Man Who Looks After Fairyland 
went back to his windy house, muttering 
angrily as he passed his cabbages, for he did 
not love the ways of the Gladsome Beast ; 
and the two friends parted on their separate 
ways. 

Nothing perceived them but that ominous 
crow glutted overlong already upon the flesh 
of man. 

The wind blew bleak from the stars. 

54 



QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S TEARS 

At first there was dangerous climbing, and 
then Ackronnion gained the smooth broad 
steps that led from the edge to the lair, and 
at that moment heard at the top of the steps 
the continuous chuckles of the Gladsome 
Beast. 

He feared then that its mirth might be in- 
superable, not to be saddened by the most 
grievous song ; nevertheless he did not turn 
back then, but softly climbed the stairs and, 
placing the agate bowl upon a step, struck up 
the chaunt called Dolorous. It told of desolate, 
regretted things befallen happy cities long 
since in the prime of the world. It told of how 
the gods and beasts and men had long ago 
loved beautiful companions, and long ago in 
vain. It told of the golden host of happy 
hopes, but not of their achieving. It told how 
Love scorned Death, but told of Death's 
laughter. The contented chuckles of the 
Gladsome Beast suddenly ceased in his lair. 
He rose and shook himself. He was still un- 
happy. Ackronnion still sang on the chaunt 
called Dolorous. The Gladsome Beast came 
mournfully up to him. Ackronnion ceased 
not for the sake of his panic but still sang on. 
He sang of the malignity of Time. Two tears 
welled large in the eyes of the Gladsome 
Beast. Ackronnion moved the agate bowl to 

55 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

a suitable spot with his foot. He sang of 
autumn and of passing away. Then the beast 
wept as the frore hills weep in the thaw, and 
the tears splashed big into the agate bowl. 
Ackronnion desperately chaunted on ; he told 
of the glad unnoticed things men see and do 
not see again, of sunlight beheld unheeded on 
faces now withered away. The bowl was full. 
Ackronnion was desperate : the Beast was so 
close. Once he thought that its mouth was 
watering ! but it was only the tears that had 
run on the lips of the Beast. He felt as a 
morsel ! The Beast was ceasing to weep ! He 
sang of worlds that had disappointed the gods. 
And all of a sudden, crash ! an the staunch 
spear of Arrath went home behind the shoulder, 
and the tears and the joyful ways of the Glad- 
some Beast were ended and over for ever. 

And carefully they carried the bowl of tears 
away, leaving the body of the Gladsome Beast 
as a change of diet for the ominous crow ; and 
going by the windy house of thatch they said 
farewell to the Old Man Who Looks After 
Fairyland, who when he heard of the deed 
rubbed his large hands together and mumbled 
again and again, " And a very good thing, too. 
My cabbages ! My cabbages ! " 

And not long after Ackronnion sang again 
in the sylvan palace of the Queen of the 

56 




HE FELT AS A MORSEL 



QUEST OF THE QUEEN'S TEARS 

Woods, having first drunk all the tears in his 
agate bowl. And it was a gala night, and all 
the court were there and ambassadors from 
the lands of legend and myth, and even from 
Terra Cognita. 

And Ackronnion sang as he never sang 
before, and will not sing again. O, but dolorous, 
dolorous, are all the ways of man, few and 
fierce are his days, and the end trouble, and 
vain, vain his endeavour : and woman who 
shall tell of it ? her doom is written with 
man's by listless, careless gods with their faces 
to other spheres. 

Somewhat thus he began, and then inspira- 
tion seized him, and all the trouble in the 
beauty of his song may not be set down by me : 
there was much gladness in it, and all mingled 
with grief : it was like the way of man : it was 
like our destiny. 

Sobs arose at his songs, sighs came back 
along echoes : seneschals, soldiers, sobbed, 
and a clear cry made the maidens ; like rain 
the tears came down from gallery to gallery. 

All round the Queen of the Woods was a 
storm of sobbing and sorrow. 

But no, she would not weep. 



57 



THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS 

THE Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing 
less good than man. Their evil tower is joined 
to Terra Cognita, to the lands we know, by a 
bridge. Their hoard is beyond reason ; avarice 
has no use for it ; they have a separate 
cellar for emeralds and a separate cellar for 
sapphires ; they have filled a hole with gold 
and dig it up when they need it. And the only 
use that is known for their ridiculous wealth 
is to attract to their larder a continual supply 
of food. In times of famine they have even 
been known to scatter rubies abroad, a little 
trail of them to some city of Man, and sure 
enough their larders would soon be full 
again. 

Their tower stands on the other side of that 
river known to Homer 6 /oo'o? axeavoto, as he 
called it which surrounds the world. And as 
the river is narrow and fordable the tower was 
built by the Gibbelins' gluttonous sires, for 
they liked to see burglars rowing easily to their 
steps. Some nourishment that common soil 

58 




THERE THE GIBBELINS LIVED AND DISCREDITABLY FED 



THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS 

has not the huge trees drained there with 
their colossal roots from both banks of the 
river. 

There the Gibbelins lived and discreditably 
fed. 

Alderic, Knight of the Order of the City and 
the Assault, hereditary Guardian of the King's 
Peace of Mind, a man not unremembered 
among the makers of myth, pondered so long 
upon the Gibbelins' hoard that by now he 
deemed it his. Alas that I should say of so 
perilous a venture, undertaken at dead of night 
by a valorous man, that its motive was sheer 
avarice ! Yet upon avarice only the Gibbelins 
relied to keep their larders full, and once in 
every hundred years sent spies into the cities 
of men to see how avarice did, and always the 
spies returned again to the tower saying that 
all was well. 

It may be thought that, as the years went 
on and men came by fearful ends on that 
tower's wall, fewer and fewer would come to the 
Gibbelins' table : but the Gibbelins found 
otherwise. 

Not in the folly and frivolity of his youth 
did Alderic come to the tower, but he studied 
carefully for several years the manner in which 
burglars met their doom when they went in 

59 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

search of the treasure that he considered his. 
In every case they had entered by the door. 

He consulted those who gave advice on this 
quest ; he noted every detail and cheerfully 
paid their fees, and determined to do nothing 
that they advised, for what were their clients 
now ? No more than examples of the savoury 
art, mere half-forgotten memories of a meal; 
and many, perhaps, no longer even that. 

These were the requisites for the quest that 
these men used to advise : a horse, a boat, 
mail armour, and at least three men-at-arms. 
Some said, " Blow the horn at the tower door ; " 
others said, " Do not touch it." 

Alderic thus decided : he would take no 
horse down to the river's edge, he would not 
row along it in a boat, and he would go alone 
and by way of the Forest Unpassable. 

How pass, you may say, by the unpassable ? 
This was his plan : there was a dragon he knew 
of who if peasants' prayers are heeded deserved 
to die, not alone because of the number of 
maidens he cruelly slew, but because he was 
bad for the crops ; he ravaged the very land 
and was the bane of a dukedom. 

Now Alderic determined to go up against 
him. So he took horse and spear and pricked 
till he met the dragon, and the dragon came 
out against him breathing bitter smoke. And 

60 



THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS 

to him Alderic shouted, " Hath foul dragon 
ever slain true knight ? " And well the dragon 
knew that this had never been, and he hung 
his head and was silent, for he was glutted 
with blood. "Then/* said the knight, "if 
thou wouldst ever taste maidens' blood again 
thou shalt be my trusty steed, and if not, by 
this spear there shall befall thee all that the 
troubadours tell of the dooms of thy breed." 

And the dragon did not open his ravening 
mouth, nor rush upon the knight, breathing 
out fire ; for well he knew the fate of those 
that did these things, but he consented to the 
terms imposed, and swore to the knight to 
become his trusty steed. 

It was on a saddle upon this dragon's back 
that Alderic afterwards sailed above the un- 
passable forest, even above the tops of those 
measureless trees, children of wonder. But 
first he pondered that subtle plan of his which 
was more profound than merely to avoid all 
that had been done before ; and he commanded 
a blacksmith, and the blacksmith made him a 
pickaxe. 

Now there was great rejoicing at the rumour 
of Alderic's quest, for all folk knew that he 
was a cautious man, and they deemed that he 
would succeed and enrich the world, and they 
rubbed their hands in the cities at the thought 

61 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

of largesse ; and there was joy among all men 
in Alderic's country, except perchance among 
the lenders of money, who feared they would 
soon be paid. And there was rejoicing also 
because men hoped that when the Gibbelins 
were robbed of their hoard, they would shatter 
their high-built bridge and break the golden 
chains that bound them to the world, and 
drift back, they and their tower, to the moon, 
from which they had come and to which they 
rightly belonged. There was little love for the 
Gibbelins, though all men envied their hoard. 

So they all cheered, that day when he 
mounted his dragon, as though he was already 
a conqueror, and what pleased them more 
than the good that they hoped he would do to 
the world was that he scattered gold as he rode 
away ; for he would not need it, he said, if 
he found the Gibbelins' hoard, and he would 
not need it more if he smoked on the Gibbelins' 
table. 

When they heard that he had rejected the 
advice of those that gave it, some said that 
the knight was mad, and others said he was 
greater than those that gave the advice, but 
none appreciated the worth of his plan. 

He reasoned thus : for centuries men had 
been well advised and had gone by the cleverest 
way, while the Gibbelins came to expect them 

62 



THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS 

to come by boat and to look for them at 
the door whenever their larder was empty, 
even as a man looketh for a snipe in the marsh ; 
but how, said Alderic, if a snipe should sit in 
the top of a tree, and would men find him 
there ? Assuredly never ! So Alderic decided 
to swim the river and not to go by the door, 
but to pick his way into the tower through 
the stone. Moreover, it was in his mind to 
work below the level of the ocean, the river (as 
Homer knew) that girdles the world, so that as 
soon as he made a hole in the wall the water 
should pour in, confounding the Gibbelins, 
and flooding the cellars rumoured to be twenty 
feet in depth, and therein he would dive for 
emeralds as a diver dives for pearls. 

And on the day that I tell of he galloped 
away from his home scattering largesse of gold, 
as I have said, and passed through many 
kingdoms, the dragon snapping at maidens as 
he went, but being unable to eat them because 
of the bit in his mouth, and earning no gentler 
reward than a spur-thrust where he was softest. 
And so they came to the swart arboreal 
precipice of the unpassable forest. The dragon 
rose at it with a rattle of wings. Many a 
farmer near the edge of the world saw him up 
there where yet the twilight lingered, a faint, 
black, wavering line ; and mistaking him for 

63 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

a row of geese going inland from the ocean, 
went into their houses cheerily rubbing their 
hands and saying that winter was coming, 
and that we should soon have snow. Soon even 
there the twilight faded away, and when they 
descended at the edge of the world it was night 
and the moon was shining. Ocean, the ancient 
river, narrow and shallow there, flowed by 
and made no murmur. Whether the Gibbelins 
banqueted or whether they watched by the 
door, they also made no murmur. And Alderic 
dismounted and took his armour off, and 
saying one prayer to his lady, swam with his 
pickaxe. He did not part from his sword, for 
fear that he met with a Gibbelin. Landed the 
other side, he began to work at once, and all 
went well with him. Nothing put out its head 
from any window, and all were lighted so that 
nothing within could see him in the dark. The 
blows of his pickaxe were dulled in the deep 
walls. All night he worked, no sound came 
to molest him, and at dawn the last rock 
swerved and tumbled inwards, and the river 
poured in after. Then Alderic took a stone, 
and went to the bottom step, and hurled the 
stone at the door ; he heard the echoes roll 
into the tower, then he ran back and dived 
through the hole in the wall. 

He was in the emerald-cellar. There was no 



THE HOARD OF THE GIBBELINS 

light in the lofty vault above him, but, diving 
through twenty feet of water, he felt the floor 
all rough with emeralds, and open coffers 
full of them. By a faint ray of the moon he 
saw that the water was green with them, and, 
easily filling a satchel, he rose again to the 
surface ; and there were the Gibbelins waist- 
deep in the water, with torches in their hands ! 
And, without saying a word, or even smiling, 
they neatly hanged him on the outer wall 
and the tale is one of those that have not a 
happy ending. 



HOW NUTH WOULD HAVE 

PRACTISED HIS ART UPON 

THE GNOLES 

DESPITE the advertisements of rival firms, it 
is probable that every tradesman knows that 
nobody in business at the present time has a 
position e^qual to that of Mr. Nuth. To those 
outside the magic circle of business, his name 
is scarcely known ; he does not need to adver- 
tise, he is consummate. He is superior even to 
modern competition, and, whatever claims 
they boast, his rivals know it. His terms are 
moderate, so much cash down when the goods 
are delivered, so much in blackmail afterwards. 
He consults your convenience. His skill may 
be counted upon ; I have seen a shadow on a 
windy night move more noisily than Nuth, for 
Nuth is a burglar by trade. Men have been 
known to stay in country houses and to send 
a dealer afterwards to bargain for a piece of 
tapestry that they saw there some article 
of furniture, some picture. This is bad taste : 
but those whose culture is more elegant 

66 



NUTH AND THE GNOLES 

invariably send Nuth a night or two after their 
visit. He has a way with tapestry, you would 
scarcely notice that the edges had been cut. 
And often when I see some huge, new house 
full of old furniture and portraits from other 
ages, I say to myself, " These mouldering 
chairs, these full-length ancestors and carved 
mahogany are the produce of the incomparable 
Nuth." 

It may be urged against my use of the word 
incomparable that in the burglary business the 
name of Slith stands paramount and alone ; 
and of this I am not ignorant ; but Slith is a 
classic, and lived long ago, and knew nothing 
at all of modern competition ; besides which 
the surprising nature of his doom has possibly 
cast a glamour upon Slith that exaggerates 
in our eyes his undoubted merits. 

It must not be thought that I am any friend 
of Nuth's, on the contrary such politics as I 
have are on the side of Property ; and he needs 
no words from me, for his position is almost 
unique in trade, being among the very few that 
do not need to advertise. 

At the time that my story begins Nuth lived 
in a roomy house in Belgrave Square : in his 
inimitable way he had made friends with the 
caretaker. The place suited Nuth, and, when- 
ever anyone came to inspect it before purchase, 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the caretaker used to praise the house in the 
words that Nuth had suggested. " If it wasn't 
for the drains," she would say, " it's the finest 
house in London," and when they pounced 
on this remark and asked questions about the 
drains, she would answer them that the drains 
also were good, but not so good as the house. 
They did not see Nuth when they went over 
the rooms, but Nuth was there. 

Here in a neat black dress on one spring 
morning came an old woman whose bonnet 
was lined with red, asking for Mr. Nuth ; and 
with her came her large and awkward son. 
Mrs. Eggins, the caretaker, glanced up the 
street, and then she let them in, and left them 
to wait in the drawing-room amongst furniture 
all mysterious with sheets. For a long while 
they waited, and then there was a smell of pipe- 
tobacco, and there was Nuth standing quite 
close to them. 

" Lord," said the old woman whose bonnet 
was lined with red, " you did make me start." 
And then she saw by his eyes that that was not 
the way to speak to Mr. Nuth. 

And at last Nuth spoke, and very nervously 
the old woman explained that her son was a 
likely lad, and had been in business already but 
wanted to better himself, and she wanted 
Mr. Nuth to teach him a livelihood. 

68 



NUTH AND THE GNOLES 

First of all Nuth wanted to see a business 
reference, and when he was shown one from 
a jeweller with whom he happened to be hand- 
in-glove the upshot of it was that he agreed to 
take young Tonker (for this was the surname 
of the likely lad) and to make him his appren- 
tice. And the old woman whose bonnet was 
lined with red went back to her little cottage 
in the country, and every evening said to her 
old man, " Tonker, we must fasten the shutters 
of a night-time, for Tommy's a burglar now." 

The details of the likely lad's apprentice- 
ship I do not propose to give ; for those that 
are in the business know those details already, 
and those that are in other businesses care only 
for their own, while men of leisure who have 
no trade at all would fail to appreciate the 
gradual degrees by which Tommy Tonker came 
first to cross bare boards, covered with little 
obstacles in the dark, without making any 
sound, and then to go silently up creaky 
stairs, and then to open doors, and lastly to 
climb. 

Let it suffice that the business prospered 
greatly, while glowing reports of Tommy 
Tonker's progress were sent from time to time 
to the old woman whose bonnet was lined with 
red in the laborious handwriting of Nuth. 
Nuth had given up lessons in writing very 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

early, for he seemed to have some prejudice 
against forgery, and therefore considered 
writing a waste of time. And then there came 
the transaction with Lord Castlenorman at 
his Surrey residence. Nuth selected a Saturday 
night, for it chanced that Saturday was 
observed as Sabbath in the family of Lord 
Castlenorman, and by eleven o'clock the whole 
house was quiet. Five minutes before mid- 
night Tommy Tonker, instructed by Mr. Nuth, 
who waited outside, came away with one 
pocketful of rings and shirt-studs. It was 
quite a light pocketful, but the jewellers in 
Paris could not match it without sending 
specially to Africa, so that Lord Castlenorman 
had to borrow bone shirt-studs. 

Not even rumour whispered the name of 
Nuth. Were I to say that this turned his head, 
there are those to whom the assertion would 
give pain, for his associates hold that his astute 
judgment was unaffected by circumstance. 
I will say, therefore, that it spurred his genius 
to plan what no burglar had ever planned before. 
It was nothing less than to burgle the house 
of the gnoles. And this that abstemious man 
unfolded to Tonker over a cup of tea. Had 
Tonker not been nearly insane with pride 
over their recent transaction, and had he not 
been blinded by a veneration for Nuth, he 

70 



NUTH AND THE GNOLES 

would have but I cry over spilt milk. He 
expostulated respectfully : he said he would 
rather not go ; he said it was not fair, he 
himself to argue ; and in the end, one windy 
October morning with a menace in the air 
found him and Nuth drawing near to the 
dreadful wood. 

Nuth, by weighing little emeralds against 
pieces of common rock, had ascertained the 
probable weight of those house-ornaments 
that the gnoles are believed to possess in the 
narrow, lofty house wherein they have dwelt 
from of old. They decided to steal two 
emeralds and to carry them between them 
on a cloak ; but if they should be too heavy 
one must be dropped at once. Nuth warned 
young Tonker against greed, and explained 
that the emeralds were worth less than cheese 
until they were safe away from the dreadful 
wood. 

Everything had been planned, and they 
walked now in silence. 

No track led up to the sinister gloom of the 
trees, either of men or cattle ; not even a 
poacher had been there snaring elves for over 
a hundred years. You did not trespass twice 
in the dells of the gnoles. And, apart from 
the things that were done there, the trees 
themselves were a warning, and did not wear 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the wholesome look of those that we plant 
ourselves. 

The nearest village was some miles away 
with the backs of all its houses turned to the 
wood, and without one window at all facing 
in that direction. They did not speak of it 
there, and elsewhere it is unheard of. 

Into this wood stepped Nuth and Tommy 
Tonker. They had no firearms. Tonker had 
asked for a pistol, but Nuth replied that the 
sound of a shot " would bring everything 
down on us," and no more was said about it. 

Into the wood they went all day, deeper 
and deeper. They saw the skeleton of some 
early Georgian poacher nailed to a door in an 
oak tree ; sometimes they saw a fairy scuttle 
away from them ; once Tonker stepped 
heavily on a hard, dry stick, after which they 
both lay still for twenty minutes. And the 
sunset flared full of omens through the tree 
trunks, and night fell, and they came by fitful 
starlight, as Nuth had foreseen, to that lean, 
high house where the gnoles so secretly dwelt. 

All was so silent by that unvalued house 
that the faded courage of Tonker flickered up, 
but to Nuth's experienced sense it seemed too 
silent ; and all the while there was that look 
in the sky that was worse than a spoken doom, 
so that Nuth, as is often the case when men 

72 



NUTH AND THE GNOLES 

are in doubt, had leisure to fear the worst. 
Nevertheless he did not abandon the business, 
but sent the likely lad with the instruments 
of his trade by means of the ladder to the old 
green casement. And the moment that 
Tonker touched the withered boards, the 
silence that, though ominous, was earthly, 
became unearthly like the touch of a ghoul. 
And Tonker heard his breath offending against 
that silence, and his heart was like mad drums 
in a night attack, and a string of one of his 
sandals went tap on a rung of a ladder, and 
the leaves of the forest were mute, and the 
breeze of the night was still ; and Tonker 
prayed that a mouse or a mole might make, 
any noise at all, but not a creature stirred, 
even Nuth was still. And then and there, 
while yet he was undiscovered, the likely lad 
made up his mind, as he should have done 
before, to leave those colossal emeralds where 
they were and have nothing further to do with 
the lean, high house of the gnoles, but to quit 
this sinister wood in the nick of time and retire 
from business at once and buy a place in the 
country. Then he descended softly and 
beckoned to Nuth. But the gnoles had 
watched him through knavish holes that they 
bore in trunks of the trees, and the unearthly 
silence gave way, as it were with a grace, to 

73 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the rapid screams of Tonker as they picked 
him up from behind screams that came 
faster and faster until they were incoherent. 
And where they took him it is not good to ask, 
and what they did with him I shall not say. 

Nuth looked on for a while from the corner 
of the house with a mild surprise on his face 
as he rubbed his chin, for the trick of the holes 
in the trees was new to him ; then he stole 
nimbly away through the dreadful wood. 

" And did they catch Nuth ? " you ask me, 
gentle reader. 

" Oh, no, my child " (for such a question is 
childish). " Nobody ever catches Nuth." 



74 




THE LEAN, HIGH HOUSE OF THE GNOLES 



HOW ONE CAME, AS WAS 

FORETOLD, TO THE CITY OF 

NEVER 

THE child that played about the terraces and 
gardens in sight of the Surrey hills never knew 
that it was he that should come to the Ultimate 
City, never knew that he should see the Under 
Pits, the barbicans and the holy minarets of 
the mightiest city known. I think of him 
now as a child with a little red watering-can 
going about the gardens on a summer's day 
that lit the warm south country, his imagina- 
tion delighted with all tales of quite little 
adventures, and all the while there was reserved 
for him that feat at which men wonder. 

Looking in other directions, away from the 
Surrey hills, through all his infancy he saw that 
precipice that, wall above wall and mountain 
above mountain, stands at the edge of the 
World, and in perpetual twilight alone with 
the Moon and the Sun holds up the incon- 
ceivable City of Never. To tread its streets 
he was destined ; prophecy knew it. He had 

75 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the magic halter, and a worn old rope it was, 
an old wayfaring woman had given it to him : 
it had the power to hold any animal whose 
race had never known captivity, such as the 
unicorn, the hippogriff, Pegasus, dragons and 
wyverns ; but with a lion, giraffe, camel or 
horse it was useless. 

How often we have seen that City of Never, 
that marvel of the Nations ! Not when it is 
night in the World, and we can see no further 
than the stars ; not when the sun is shining 
where we dwell, dazzling our eyes ; but when 
the sun has set on some stormy day, all at 
once repentant at evening, and those glittering 
cliffs reveal themselves which we almost take 
to be clouds, and it is twilight with us as it is 
for ever with them, then on their gleaming 
summits we see those golden domes that over- 
peer the edges of the World and seem to dance 
with dignity and calm in that gentle light of 
evening that is Wonder's native haunt. Then 
does the city of Never, unvisited and afar, 
look long at her sister the World. 

It had been prophesied that he should come 
there. They knew it when the pebbles were 
being made and before the isles of coral were 
given unto the sea. And thus the prophecy 
came unto fulfilment and passed into history, 
and so at length to Oblivion, out of which I 



THE CITY OF NEVER 

drag it as it goes floating by, into which I shall 
one day tumble. The hippogriffs dance before 
dawn in the upper air ; long before sunrise 
flashes upon our lawns they go to glitter in 
light that has not yet come to the World, 
and as the dawn works up from the ragged 
hills and the stars feel it they go slanting earth- 
wards, till sunlight touches the tops of the 
tallest trees, and the hippogriffs alight with a 
rattle of quills and fold their wings and 
gallop and gambol away till they come to 
some prosperous, wealthy, detestable town, 
and they leap at once from the fields and soar 
away from the sight of it, pursued by the 
horrible smoke of it until they come again to 
the pure blue air. 

He whom prophecy had named from of old 
to come to the City of Never, went down one 
midnight with his magic halter to a lake-side 
where the hippogriffs alighted at dawn, for 
the turf was soft there and they could gallop 
far before they came to a town, and there he 
waited near their hoof marks. And the stars 
paled a little and grew indistinct ; but there 
was no other sign as yet of the dawn, when 
there appeared far up in the deeps of night 
two little saffron specks, then four and five : 
it was the hippogriffs dancing and twirling 
around in the sun. Another flock joined them, 

77 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

there were twelve of them now ; they danced 
there, flashing their colours back to the sun, 
they descended in wide curves slowly ; trees 
down on earth revealed against the sky, jet- 
black each delicate twig ; a star disappeared 
from a cluster, now another ; and dawn came 
on like music, like a new song. Ducks shot by 
to the lake from still dark fields of corn, far 
voices uttered, a colour grew upon water, and 
still the hippogriffs gloried in the light, revel- 
ling up in the sky ; but when pigeons stirred 
on the branches and the first small bird was 
abroad, and little coots from the rushes 
ventured to peer about, then there came down 
on a sudden with a thunder of feathers the 
hippogriffs, and, as they landed from their 
celestial heights all bathed with the day's first 
sunlight, the man whose destiny it was from 
of old to come to the City of Never, sprang up 
and caught the last with the magic halter. 
It plunged, but could not escape it, for the 
hippogriffs are of the uncaptured races, and 
magic has power over the magical, so the man 
mounted it, and it soared again for the heights 
whence it had come, as a wounded beast goes 
home. But when they came to the heights 
that venturous rider saw huge and fair to the 
left of him the destined City of Never, and he 
beheld the towers of Lei and Lek, Neerib and 




THE CITY OF NEVER 



THE CITY OF NEVER 

Akathooma, and the cliffs of Toldenarba a- 
glistering in the twilight like an alabaster 
statue of the Evening. Towards them . he 
wrenched the halter, towards Toldenarba and 
the Under Pits ; the wings of the hippogriff 
roared as the halter turned him. Of the Under 
Pits who shall tell ? Their mystery is secret. 
It is held by some that they are the sources 
of night, and that darkness pours from them 
at evening upon the world ; while others hint 
that knowledge of these might undo our 
civilization. 

There watched him ceaselessly from the Under 
Pits those eyes whose duty it is ; from further 
within and deeper, the bats that dwell there 
arose when they saw the surprise in the eyes ; 
the sentinels on the bulwarks beheld that 
stream of bats and lifted up their spears as it 
were for war. Nevertheless when they per- 
ceived that that war for which they watched 
was not now come upon them, they lowered 
their spears and suffered him to enter, and he 
passed whirring through the earthward gate- 
way. Even so he came, as foretold, to the City 
of Never perched upon Toldenarba, and saw 
late twilight on those pinnacles that know no 
other light. All the domes were of copper, 
but the spires on their summits were gold. 
Little steps of onyx ran all this way and that. 

79 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

With cobbled agates were its streets a glory. 
Through small square panes of rose-quartz the 
citizens looked from their houses. To them as 
they looked abroad the Wor]d far-off seemed 
happy. Clad though that city was in one robe 
always, in twilight, yet was its beauty worthy 
of even so lovely a wonder : city and twilight 
both were peerless but for each other. Built 
of a stone unknown in the world we tread were 
its bastions, quarried we know not where, but 
called by the gnomes abyx, it so flashed back 
to the twilight its glories, colour for colour, 
that none can say of them where their boundary 
is, and which the eternal twilight, and which 
the city of Never ; they are the twin-born 
children, the fairest daughters of Wonder. 
Time had been there, but not to work destruc- 
tion ; he had turned to a fair, pale green the 
domes that were made of copper, the rest he 
had left untouched, even he, the destroyer of 
cities, by what bribe I know not averted. 
Nevertheless they often wept in Never for 
change and passing away, mourning catas- 
trophes in other worlds, and they built temples 
sometimes to ruined stars that had fallen 
flaming down from the Milky Way, giving 
them worship still when by us long since for- 
gotten. Other temples they have who knows 
to what divinities ? 

80 



THE CITY OF NEVER 

And he that was destined alone of men to 
come to the City of Never was well content to 
behold it as he trotted down its agate street, 
with the wings of his hippogriff furled, seeing 
at either side of him marvel on marvel of which 
even China is ignorant. Then as he neared the 
city's further rampart by which no inhabitant 
stirred, and looked in a direction to which no 
houses faced with any rose-pink windows, he 
suddenly saw far-off, dwarfing the mountains, 
an even greater city. Whether that city was 
built upon the twilight or whether it rose from 
the coasts of some other world he did not 
know. He saw it dominate the City of Never, 
and strove to reach it ; but at this unmeasured 
home of unknown colossi the hippogriff shied 
frantically, and neither the magic halter nor 
anything that he did could make the monster 
face it. At last, from the city of Never 's lonely 
outskirts where no inhabitants walked, the 
rider turned slowly earthwards, he knew now 
why all the windows faced this way the 
denizens of the twilight gazed at the world 
and not at a greater than them. Then from 
the last step of the earthward stairway, like 
lead past the Under Pits and down the glitter- 
ing face of Toldenarba, down from the over- 
shadowed glories of the gold-tipped City of 
Never and out of perpetual twilight, swooped 

G 81 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

the man on his winged monster : the wind that 
slept at the time leaped up like a dog at their 
onrush, it uttered a cry and ran past them. 
Down on the World it was morning ; night 
was roaming away with his cloak trailed behind 
him, white mists turned over and over as he 
went, the orb was grey but it glittered, lights 
blinked surprisingly in early windows, forth 
over wet, dim fields went cows from their 
houses : even in this hour touched the fields 
again the feet of the hippogriff. And the 
moment that the man dismounted and took 
off his magic halter the hippogriff flew slanting 
away with a whirr, going back to some airy 
dancing-place of his people. 

And he that surmounted glittering Tol- 
denarba and came alone of men to the City of 
Never has his name and his fame among 
nations ; but he and the people of that twilit 
city well know two things unguessed by other 
men, they that there is a city fairer than theirs, 
and he a deed unaccomplished. 



82 



THE CORONATION OF 
MR. THOMAS SHAP 

IT was the occupation of Mr. Thomas Shap to 
persuade customers that the goods were 
genuine and of an excellent quality, and that 
as regards the price their unspoken will was 
consulted. And in order to carry on this occu- 
pation he went by train very early every 
morning some few miles nearer to the City 
from the suburb in which he slept. This was 
the use to which he put his life. 

From the moment when he first perceived 
(not as one reads a thing in a book, but as 
truths are revealed to one's instinct) the very 
beastliness of his occupation, and of the house 
that he slept in, its shape, make and preten- 
sions, and of even the clothes that he wore ; 
from that moment he withdrew his dreams 
from it, his fancies, his ambitions, everything 
in fact except that ponderable Mr. Shap that 
dressed in a frock-coat, bought tickets and 
handled money and could in turn be handled 
by the statistician. The priest's share in Mr. 

83 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Shap, the share of the poet, never caught the 
early train to the City at all. 

He used to take little flights with his fancy 
at first, dwelt all day in his dreamy way on 
fields and rivers lying in the sunlight where 
it strikes the world more brilliantly further 
South. And then he began to imagine butter- 
flies there ; after that, silken people and the 
temples they built to their gods. 

They noticed that he was silent, and even 
absent at times, but they found no fault with 
his behaviour with customers, to whom he 
remained as plausible as of old. So he dreamed 
for a year, and his fancy gained strength as he 
dreamed. He still read halfpenny papers in 
the train, still discussed the passing day's 
ephemeral topic, still voted at elections, 
though he no longer did these things with 
the whole Shap his soul was no longer in 
them. 

He had had a pleasant year, his imagination 
was all new to him still, and it had often dis- 
covered beautiful things away where it went, 
south-east at the edge of the twilight. And he 
had a matter-of-fact and logical mind, so that 
he often said, " Why should I pay my two- 
pence at the electric theatre when I can see all 
sorts of things quite easily without ? " What- 
ever he did was logical before anything else, 






THE CORONATION OF MR. SHAP 

and those that knew him always spoke of Shap 
as " a sound, sane, level-headed man." 

On far the most important day of his life he 
went as usual to town by the early train to sell 
plausible articles to customers, while the 
spiritual Shap roamed off to fanciful lands. 
As he walked from the station, dreamy but 
wide awake, it suddenly struck him that the 
real Shap was not the one walking to Business 
in black and ugly clothes, but he who roamed 
along a jungle's edge near the ramparts of an old 
and Eastern city that rose up sheer from the 
sand, and against which the desert lapped with 
one eternal wave. He used to fancy the name 
of that city was Larkar. " After all, the fancy 
is as real as the body," he said with perfect 
logic. It was a dangerous theory. 

For that other life that he led he realized, 
as in Business, the importance and value of 
method. He did not let his fancy roam too 
far until it perfectly knew its first surroundings. 
Particularly he avoided the jungle he was not 
afraid to meet a tiger there (after all it was not 
real), but stranger things might crouch there. 
Slowly he built up Larkar : rampart by ram- 
part, towers for archers, gateway of brass, and 
all. And then one day he argued, and quite 
rightly, that all the silk-clad people in its streets, 
their camels, their wares that came from Inkus- 

85 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

tahn, the city itself, were all the things of his 
will and then he made himself King. He smiled 
after that when people did not raise their hats 
to him in the street, as he walked from the 
station to Business ; but he was sufficiently 
practical to recognize that it was better not 
to talk of this to those that only knew him as 
Mr. Shap. 

Now that he was King in the city of Larkar 
and in all the desert that lay to the East and 
North he sent his fancy to wander further 
afield. He took the regiments of his camel- 
guard and went jingling out of Larkar, with 
little silver bells under the camels' chins, and 
came to other cities far-off on the yellow sand, 
with clear white walls and towers, uplifting 
themselves in the sun. Through their gates 
he passed with his three silken regiments, the 
light-blue regiment of the camel-guard being 
upon his right and the green regiment riding 
at his left, the lilac regiment going on before. 
When he had gone through the streets of any 
city and observed the ways of its people, and 
had seen the way that the sunlight struck its 
towers, he would proclaim himself King there, 
and then ride on in fancy. So he passed from 
city to city and from land to land. Clear- 
sighted though Mr. Shap was, I think he over- 
looked the lust of aggrandizement to which 

86 



i THE CORONATION OF MR. SHAP 

kings have so often been victims : and so it was 
that when the first few cities had opened their 
gleaming gates and he saw people prostrate 
before his camel, and spearmen cheering along 
countless balconies, and priests come out to do 
him reverence, he that had never had even the 
lowliest authority in the familiar world became 
unwisely insatiate. He let his fancy ride at 
inordinate speed, he forsook method, scarce was 
he king of a land but he yearned to extend his 
borders ; so he journeyed deeper and deeper 
into the wholly unknown. The concentration 
that he gave to this inordinate progress through 
countries of which history is ignorant and cities 
so fantastic in their bulwarks that, though their 
inhabitants were human, yet the foe that they 
feared seemed something less or more ; the 
amazement with which he beheld gates and 
towers unknown even to art, and furtive people 
thronging intricate ways to acclaim him as their 
sovereign ; all these things began to affect his 
capacity for Business. He knew as well as any 
that his fancy could not rule these beautiful 
lands unless that other Shap, however unim- 
portant, were well sheltered and fed : and 
shelter and food meant money, and money, 
Business. His was more like the mistake of 
some gambler with cunning schemes who over- 
looks human greed. One day his fancy, riding 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

in the morning, came to a city gorgeous as the 
sunrise, in whose opalescent wall were gates of 
gold, so huge that a river poured between the 
bars, floating in, when the gates were opened, 
large galleons under sail. Thence there came 
dancing out a company with instruments, and 
made a melody all round the wall ; that 
morning Mr. Shap, the bodily Shap in London, 
forgot the train to town. 

Until a year ago he had never imagined at 
all ; it is not to be wondered at that all these 
things now newly seen by his fancy should play 
tricks at first with the memory of even so sane a 
man. He gave up reading the papers altogether, 
he lost all interest in politics, he cared less and 
less for things that were going on around 
him. This unfortunate missing of the morning 
train even occurred again, and the firm spoke to 
him severely about it. But he had his consola- 
tion. Were not Arathrion and Argun Zeerith and 
all the level coasts of Oora his ? And even as 
the firm found fault with him his fancy watched 
the yaks on weary journeys, slow specks 
against the snow-fields, bringing tribute ; 
and saw the green eyes of the mountain men 
who had looked at him strangely in the City 
of Nith when he had entered it by the desert 
door. Yet his logic did not forsake him ; he 
knew well that his strange subjects did not 

88 



THE CORONATION OF MR. SHAP 

exist, but he was prouder of having created 
them with his brain, than merely of ruling 
them only ; thus in his pride he felt himself 
something more great than a king, he did not 
dare to think what ! He went into the temple 
of the city of Zorra and stood some time there 
alone : all the priests kneeled to him when he 
came away. 

He cared less and less for the things we care 
about, for the affairs of Shap, a business-man 
in London. He began to despise the man with 
a royal contempt. 

One day when he sat in Sowla, the city of 
the Thuls, throned on one amethyst, he decided, 
and it was proclaimed on the moment by silver 
trumpets all along the land, that he would be 
crowned as the king over all the lands of 
Wonder. 

By that old temple where the Thuls were 
worshipped, year in, year out, for over a 
thousand years, they pitched pavilions in the 
open air. The trees that blew there threw out 
radiant scents unknown in any countries that 
know the map ; the stars blazed fiercely for 
that famous occasion. A fountain hurled up, 
clattering, ceaselessly into the air armfuls on 
armfuls of diamonds, a deep hush waited for 
the golden trumpets, the holy coronation night 
was come. At the top of those old, worn steps, 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

going down we know not whither, stood the 
king in the emerald-and-amethyst cloak, the 
ancient garb of the Thuls ; beside him lay that 
Sphinx that for the last few weeks had advised 
him in his affairs. 

Slowly, with music when the trumpets 
sounded, came up towards him from we know 
not where, one - hundred - and - twenty arch- 
bishops, twenty angels and two archangels, 
with that terrific crown, the diadem of the 
Thuls. They knew as they came up to him 
that promotion awaited them all because of 
this night's work. Silent, majestic, the king 
awaited them. 

The doctors downstairs were sitting over 
their supper, the warders softly slipped from 
room to room, and when in that cosy dormitory 
of Hanwell they saw the king still standing 
erect and royal, his face resolute, they came up 
to him and addressed him : " Go to bed," 
they said " pretty bed." So he lay down and 
soon was fast asleep : the great day was over. 



90 




THE CORONATION OF MR. THOMAS SHAP 



CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH 

IT was the custom on Tuesdays in the temple of 
Chu-bu for the priests to enter at evening and 
chant, " There is none but Chu-bu/' 

And all the people rejoiced and cried out, 
" There is none but Chu-bu." And honey was 
offered to Chu-bu, and maize and fat. Thus 
was he magnified. 

Chu-bu was an idol of some antiquity, as may 
be seen from the colour of the wood. He had 
been carved out of mahogany, and after he 
was carved he had been polished. Then they 
had set him up on the diorite pedestal with the 
brazier in front of it for burning spices and 
the flat gold plates for fat. Thus they wor- 
shipped Chu-bu. 

He must have been there for over a hundred 

years when one day the priests came in with 

another idol into the temple of Chu-bu, and 

set it on a pedestal near Chu-bu's and sang, 

' There is also Sheemish." 

And all the people rejoiced and cried out, 
" There is also Sheemish." 

9* 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Sheemish was palpably a modern idol, and 
although the wood was stained with a dark-red 
dye, you could see that he had only just been 
carved. And honey was offered to Sheemish 
as well as Chu-bu, and also maize and fat. 

The fury of Chu-bu knew no time-limit ; he 
was furious all that night, and next day he was 
furious still. The situation called for immediate 
miracles. To devastate the city with a pesti- 
lence and kill all his priests was scarcely within 
his power, therefore he wisely concentrated 
such divine powers as he had in commanding 
a little earthquake. " Thus," thought Chu-bu, 
" will I reassert myself as the only god, and 
men shall spit upon Sheemish." 

Chu-bu willed it and willed it and still no 
earthquake came, when suddenly he was aware 
that the hated Sheemish was daring to attempt 
a miracle too. He ceased to busy himself about 
the earthquake and listened, or shall I say felt, 
for what Sheemish was thinking ; for gods 
are aware of what passes in the mind by a 
sense that is other than any of our five. 
Sheemish was trying to make an earthquake 
too. 

The new god's motive was probably to assert 
himself. I doubt if Chu-bu understood or 
cared for his motive, it was sufficient for an 
idol already aflame with jealousy that his 

92 



CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH 

detestable rival was on the verge of a miracle. 
All the power of Chu-bu veered round at once 
and set dead against an earthquake, even a 
little one. It was thus in the temple of Chu-bu 
for some time, and then no earthquake came. 

To be a god and to fail to achieve a miracle 
is a despairing sensation ; it is as though 
among men one should determine upon a 
hearty sneeze and as though no sneeze should 
come ; it is as though one should try to swim 
in heavy boots or remember a name that 
is utterly forgotten : all these pains were 
Sheemish's. 

And upon Tuesday the priests came in, and 
the people, and they did worship Chu-bu and 
offered fat to him, saying, " O Chu-bu who 
made everything," and then the priests sang, 
" There is also Sheemish," and again the people 
rejoiced and cried out, " There is also 
Sheemish " ; and Chu-bu was put to shame 
and spake not for three days. 

Now there were holy birds in the temple of 
Chu-bu, and when the third day was come and 
the night thereof, it was as it were revealed to 
the mind of Chu-bu, that there was dirt upon 
the head of Sheemish. 

And Chu-bu spake unto Sheemish as speak 
the gods, moving no lips nor yet disturbing 
the silence, saying, " There is dirt upon thy 

93 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

head, O Sheemish." All night long he muttered 
again and again, " There is dirt upon Sheemish's 
head." And when it was dawn and voices 
were heard far off, Chu-bu became exultant 
with Earth's awakening things, and cried out 
till the sun was high, " Dirt, dirt, dirt, upon 
the head of Sheemish," and at noon he said, 
" So Sheemish would be a god." Thus was 
Sheemish confounded. 

And with Tuesday one came and washed his 
head with rose-water, and he was worshipped 
again when they sang " There is also Sheemish." 
And yet was Chu-bu content, for he said, 
" The head of Sheemish has been defiled," and 
again, " His head was denied, it is enough." 
And one evening lo ! there was dirt on the 
head of Chu-bu also, and the thing was per- 
ceived of Sheemish. 

It is not with the gods as it is with men. 
We are angry one with another and turn from 
our anger again, but the wrath of the gods is 
enduring. Chu-bu remembered and Sheemish 
did not forget. They spake as we do not speak, 
in silence yet heard of each other, nor were 
their thoughts as our thoughts. We should 
not judge them by merely human standards. 
All night long they spake and all night 
said these words only : " Dirty Chu-bu," 
" Dirty Sheemish." " Dirty Chu-bu," " Dirty 

94 



CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH 

Sheemish," all night long. Their wrath had 
not tired at dawn, and neither had wearied 
of his accusation. And gradually Chu-bu came 
to realize that he was nothing more than the 
equal of Sheemish. All gods are jealous, but 
this equality with the upstart Sheemish, a 
thing of painted wood a hundred years newer 
than Chu-bu; and this worship given to 
Sheemish in Chu-bu's own temple, were par- 
ticularly bitter. Chu-bu was jealous even for 
a god ; and when Tuesday came again, the 
third day of Sheemish's worship, Chu-bu could 
bear it no longer. He felt that his anger must 
be revealed at all costs, and he returned with 
all the vehemence of his will to achieving a 
little earthquake. The worshippers had just 
gone from his temple when Chu-bu settled his 
will to attain this miracle, now and then his 
meditations were disturbed by the now familiar 
dictum, " Dirty Chu-bu," but Chu-bu willed 
ferociously, not even stopping to say what he 
longed to say and had already said nine 
hundred times, and presently even these inter- 
ruptions ceased. 

They ceased because Sheemish had returned 
to a project that he had never definitely aban- 
doned, the desire to assert himself and exalt 
himself over Chu-bu by performing a miracle, 
and the district being volcanic he had chosen 

95 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

a little earthquake as the miracle most easily 
accomplished by a small god. 

Now an earthquake that is commanded by 
two gods has double the chance of fulfilment 
than when it is willed by one, and an incal- 
culably greater chance than when two gods are 
pulling different ways ; as, to take the case of 
older and greater gods, when the sun and the 
moon pull in the same direction we have the 
biggest tides. 

Chu-bu knew nothing of the theory of tides 
and was too much occupied with his miracle 
to notice what Sheemish was doing. And 
suddenly the miracle was an accomplished 
thing. 

It was a very local earthquake, for there are 
other gods than Chu-bu or even Sheemish, and 
it was only a little one as the gods had willed, 
but it loosened some monoliths in a colonnade 
that supported one side of the temple and the 
whole of one wall fell in, and the low huts of 
the people of that city were shaken a little and 
some of their doors were jammed so that they 
would not open ; it was enough, and for a 
moment it seemed that it was all ; neither 
Chu-bu nor Sheemish commanded there should 
be more, but they had set in motion an old 
law older than Chu-bu, the law of gravity 
that that colonnade had held back for a 



CHU-BU AND SHEEMISH 

hundred years, and the temple of Chu-bu 
quivered and then stood still, swayed once 
and was overthrown, on the heads of Chu-bu 
and Sheemish. 

No one rebuilt it, for nobody dared go near 
such terrible gods. Some said that Chu-bu 
wrought the miracle, but some said Sheemish, 
and thereof schism was born ; the weakly 
amiable, alarmed by the bitterness of rival 
sects, sought compromise and said that both 
had wrought it, but no one guessed the truth 
that the thing was done in rivalry. 

And a saying arose, and both sects held 
this belief in common, that whoso toucheth 
Chu-bu shall die or whoso looketh upon 
Sheemish. 

That is how Chu-bu came into my possession 
when I travelled once beyond the Hills of 
Ting. I found him in the fallen temple of Chu- 
bu with his hands and toes sticking up out of 
the rubbish, lying upon his back, and in this 
attitude just as I found him I keep him to this 
day on my mantelpiece, as he is less liable to 
be upset that way. Sheemish was broken, so 
I left him where he was. 

And there is something so helpless about 
Chu-bu with his fat hands stuck up in the air 
that sometimes I am moved out of compassion 
to bow down to him and pray, saying, " O 

H 97 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

Chu-bu, thou that made everything, help thy 
servant." 

Chu-bu cannot do much, though once I am 
sure that at a game of bridge he sent me the ace 
of trumps after I had not held a card worth 
having for the whole of the evening. And 
chance could have done as much as that for me, 
but I do not tell this to Chu-bu. 



THE WONDERFUL WINDOW 

THE old man in the Oriental-looking robe was 
being moved on by the police, and it was this 
that attracted to him and the parcel under his 
arm the attention of Mr. Sladden, whose live- 
lihood was earned in the emporium of Messrs. 
Mergin and Chater, that is to say in their 
establishment. 

Mr. Sladden had the reputation of being the 
silliest young man in Business ; a touch of 
romance a mere suggestion of it would send 
his eyes gazing away as though the walls of 
the emporium were of gossamer and London 
itself a myth, instead of attending to customers. 

Merely the fact that the dirty piece of paper 
that wrapped the old man's parcel was covered 
with Arabic writing was enough to give Mr. 
Sladden the idea of romance, and he followed 
until the little crowd fell off and the stranger 
stopped by the kerb and unwrapped his parcel 
and prepared to sell the thing that was inside 
it. It was a little window in old wood with 
small panes set in lead ; it was not much more 

99 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

than a foot in breadth and was under two feet 
long. Mr. Sladden had never before seen a 
window sold in the street, so he asked the price 
of it. 

" Its price is all you possess," said the old 
man. 

" Where did you get it ? " said Mr. Sladden, 
for it was a strange window. 

" I gave all that I possessed for it in the 
streets of Baghdad." 

" Did you possess much ? " said Mr. Sladden. 

" I had all that I wanted," he said, " except 
this window." 

" It must be a good window," said the young 
man. 

" It is a magical window," said the old one. 

" I have only ten shillings on me, but I 
have fifteen-and-six at home." 

The old man thought for a while. 

" Then twenty-five-and-sixpence is the price 
of the window," he said. 

It was only when the bargain was completed 
and the ten shillings paid and the strange old 
man was coming for his fifteen-and-six and to 
fit the magical window into his only room that 
it occurred to Mr. Sladden's mind that he did 
not want a window. And then they were at 
the door of the house in which he rented a room, 
and it seemed too late to explain. 

100 



THE WONDERFUL WINDOW 

The stranger demanded privacy while he 
fitted up the window, so Mr. Sladden remained 
outside the door at the top of a little 
flight of creaky stairs. He heard no sound of 
hammering. 

And presently the strange old man came 
out with his faded yellow robe and his great 
beard, and his eyes on far-off places. "It is 
finished," he said, and he and the young man 
parted. And whether he remained a spot of 
colour and an anachronism in London, or 
whether he ever came again to Baghdad, and 
what dark hands kept on the circulation of 
his twenty-five-and-six, Mr. Sladden never 
knew. 

Mr. Sladden entered the bare-boarded room 
in which he slept and spent all his indoor 
hours between closing-time and the hour at 
which Messrs. Mergin and Chater commenced. 
To the Penates of so dingy a room his neat 
frock-coat must have been a continual wonder. 
Mr. Sladden took it off and folded it carefully ; 
and there was the old man's window rather 
high up in the wall. There had been no 
window in that wall hitherto, nor any ornament 
at all but a small cupboard, so when Mr. 
Sladden had put his frock-coat safely away he 
glanced through his new window. It was 
where his cupboard had been in which he kept 

H2 101 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

his tea-things : they were all standing on the 
table now. When Mr. Sladden glanced through 
his new window it was late in a summer's 
evening ; the butterflies some while ago would 
have closed their wings, though the bat would 
scarcely yet be drifting abroad but this was 
in London : the shops were shut and street- 
lamps not yet lighted. 

Mr. Sladden rubbed his eyes, then rubbed 
the window, and still he saw a sky of blazing 
blue, and far, far down beneath him, so that 
no sound came up from it or smoke of chimneys, 
a mediaeval city set with towers. Brown roofs 
and cobbled streets, and then white walls and 
buttresses, and beyond them bright green 
fields and tiny streams. On the towers archers 
lolled, and along the walls were pikemen, and 
now and then a wagon went down some old- 
world street and lumbered through the gate- 
way and out to the country, and now and then 
a wagon drew up to the city from the mist that 
was rolling with evening over the fields. 
Sometimes folk put their heads out of lattice 
windows, sometimes some idle troubadour 
seemed to sing, and nobody hurried or troubled 
about anything. Airy and dizzy though the 
distance was, for Mr. Sladden seemed higher 
above the city than any cathedral gargoyle, 
yet one clear detail he obtained as a clue : the 

102 



THE WONDERFUL WINDOW 

banners floating from every tower over the 
idle archers had little golden dragons all over 
a pure white field. 

He heard the motor-buses roar by his other 
window, he heard the newsboys howling. 

Mr. Sladden grew dreamier than ever after 
that on the premises, in the establishment, of 
Messrs. Mergin and Chater. But in one matter 
he was wise and wakeful : he made continuous 
and careful inquiries about golden dragons on 
a white flag, and talked to no one of his wonder- 
ful window. He came to know the flags of every 
king in Europe, he even dabbled in history, 
he made inquiries at shops that understood 
heraldry, but nowhere could he learn any trace 
of little dragons or on a field argent. And when 
it seemed that for him alone those golden 
dragons had fluttered he came to love them as 
an exile in some desert might love the lilies 
of his home or as a sick man might love 
swallows when he cannot easily live to another 
spring. 

As soon as Messrs. Mergin and Chater closed, 
Mr. Sladden used to go back to his dingy room 
and gaze through the wonderful window until 
it grew dark in the city and the guard would go 
with a lantern round the ramparts and the 
night came up like velvet, full of strange stars. 
Another clue he tried to obtain one night by 

103 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

jotting down the shapes of the constellations, 
but this led him no further, for they were unlike 
any that shone upon either hemisphere. 

Each day as soon as he woke he went first to 
the wonderful window, and there was the city, 
diminutive in the distance, all shining in the 
morning, and the golden dragons dancing in 
the sun, and the archers stretching themselves 
or swinging their arms on the top of the windy 
towers. The window would not open, so that 
he never heard the songs that the troubadours 
sang down there beneath gilded balconies ; 
he did not even hear the belfries' chimes, 
though he saw the jackdaws routed every hour 
from their homes. And the first thing that 
he always did was to cast his eye round all the 
little towers that rose up from the ramparts 
to see that the little golden dragons were flying 
there on their flags. And when he saw them 
flaunting themselves on white folds from every 
tower against the marvellous deep blue of the 
sky he dressed contentedly, and, taking one last 
look, went off to his work with a glory in his 
mind. It would have been difficult for the 
customers of Messrs. Mergin and Chater to 
guess the precise ambition of Mr. Sladden 
as he walked before them in his neat frock-coat : 
it was that he might be a man-at-arms or an 
archer in order to fight for the little golden 

104 



THE WONDERFUL WINDOW , 

dragons that flew on a white flag for an un- 
known king in an inaccessible city. At first 
Mr. Sladden used to walk round and round the 
mean street that he lived in, but he gained no 
clue from that ; and soon he noticed that 
quite different winds blew below his wonderful 
window from those that blew on the other side 
of the house. 

In August the evenings began to grow 
shorter : this was the very remark that the 
other employes made to him at the emporium, 
so that he almost feared that they suspected 
his secret, and he had much less time for the 
wonderful window, for lights were few down 
there and they blinked out early. 

One morning late in August, just before he 
went to Business, Mr. Sladden saw a company 
of pikemen running down the cobbled road 
towards the gateway of the mediaeval city 
Golden Dragon City he used to call it alone in 
his own mind, but he never spoke of it to any- 
one. The next thing that he noticed was that 
the archers on the towers were talking a good 
deal together and were handing round bundles 
of arrows in addition to the quivers which they 
wore. Heads were thrust out of windows more 
than usual, a woman ran out and called some 
children indoors, a knight rode down the street, 
and then more pikemen appeared along the 

105 



THE BOOK OF WONDER 

walls, and all the jackdaws were in the air. In 
the street no troubadour sang. Mr. Sladden 
took one look along the towers to see that the 
flags were flying, and all the golden dragons 
were streaming in the wind. Then he had to 
go to Business. He took a 'bus back that 
evening and ran upstairs. Nothing seemed 
to be happening in Golden Dragon City except 
a crowd in the cobbled street that led down 
to the gateway ; the archers seemed to be 
reclining as usual lazily in their towers, then 
a white flag went down with all its golden 
dragons ; he did not see at first that all the 
archers were dead. The crowd was pouring 
towards him, towards the precipitous wall from 
which he looked, men with a white flag covered 
with golden dragons were moving backwards 
slowly, men with another flag were pressing 
them, a flag on which there was one huge red 
bear. Another banner went down upon a 
tower. Then he saw it all : the golden dragons 
were being beaten his little golden dragons. 
The men of the bear were coming under the 
window ; whatever he threw from that height 
would fall with terrific force : fire-irons, coal, 
his clock, whatever he had he would fight 
for his little golden dragons yet. A flame 
broke out from one of the towers and licked 
the feet of a reclining archer ; he did not stir. 

106 



THE WONDERFUL WINDOW 

And now the alien standard was out of sight 
directly underneath. Mr. Sladden broke the 
panes of the wonderful window and wrenched 
away with a poker the lead that held them. 
Just as the glass broke he saw a banner covered 
with golden dragons fluttering still, and then 
as he drew back to hurl the poker there came 
to him the scent of mysterious spices, and 
there was nothing there, not even the daylight, 
for behind the fragments of the wonderful 
window was nothing but that small cupboard 
in which he kept his tea-things. 

And though Mr. Sladden is older now and 
knows more of the world, and even has a 
Business of his own, he has never been able 
to buy such another window, and has not ever 
since, either from books or men, heard any 
rumour at all of Golden Dragon City. 



107 



EPILOGUE 

HERE the fourteenth Episode of the Book of 
Wonder endeth and here the relating of the 
Chronicles of Little Adventures at the Edge 
of the World. I take farewell of my readers. 
But it may be we shall even meet again, for it 
is still to be told how the gnomes robbed the 
fairies, and of the vengeance that the fairies 
took, and how even the gods themselves were 
troubled thereby in their sleep ; and how the 
King of Ool insulted the troubadours, thinking 
himself safe among his scores of archers and 
hundreds of halberdiers, and how the trouba- 
dours stole to his towers by night, and under 
his battlements by the light of the moon made, 
that king ridiculous for ever in song. But for 
this I must first return to the Edge of the 
World. Behold, the caravans start. 



PRINTED BY WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD., PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND. 



PR Dunsany, Edward John Moreton 

6007 Drax Plunkett 

U6B6 The book of wonder C 2d ed. 3 

1919 



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